AAP

Unprecedented depth in top-level talent has switched talk surrounding rugby league's minnows from inevitable hidings to possible boilovers at this year's World Cup.

The sport's determination to develop the game internationally has come at the expense of some credibility in the past, with the expanded 2000 tournament in the UK in particular blighted by lop-sided affairs.

But a significant increase in Polynesian players in the NRL over the past decade and further development across the lower-ranked nations has paved the way for a rejuvenation of the event.

Expanded to 14 teams, up from 10 in 2008, many are littered with first grade talent and it is widely expected the 'Big Three' of Australia, New Zealand and England will be tested like never before.

"There's so many of the NRL guys playing that the competition will throw up a boilover here or there," Kangaroos coach Tim Sheens said.

"Whether or not it's against the big three will be interesting.

"But there'll be some interesting results among the others."

Fiji, semi-finalists in 2008 and captained by veteran prop Petero Civoniceva, are again expected to be among the most competitive sides outside the top nations.

Both Samoa and Tonga, though, look stronger than ever and will field sides comprised almost exclusively of NRL players.

Some shock results in warm-up matches, including Italy's win over England and the rank outsiders the US upsetting France, has raised hope among the minnows that anything is possible.

"I don't know if anyone's going to beat Australia or anything like that, but you look at some of these teams and I think there's certainly some shocks on the cards," said David Fairleigh, coach of Cook Islands and one of five Australians at the helm of World Cup teams.

"I think some people will be shocked by how good some of these Pacific Islands teams are.

"Talking to the other coaches, it's great to see how far the game has actually come and the strengthening of the squads now compared to even five or six years ago."

Pools are weighted to give every team a genuine chance of reaching the quarter-finals, with groups C and D made up solely of lower-ranked nations.

None of the nations are planning on simply making up the numbers.

"Obviously you want to top your group, that's what we're all aiming for," Italy captain Anthony Minichiello said.

"You want to see the game to be strong and competitive you want to grow the other nations and make sure it's not just the big three that are winning every time."