Lesser Known Players To Watch At The 2017 Rugby League World Cup

You know the stars, but what about the undiscovered gems that will be running out for their countries?

An early promotional shoot for the world cup before Jessie Bromwich was suspended.

On Friday night the 2017 Rugby League World Cup kicks off at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium (what a name) with a match between Australia and England. The tournament is made up of 14 teams and will consist of 28 games total, with the world champion to be crowned after the final at Suncorp Stadium on the 2nd of December. The lead up to the competition has seen the usual cacophony of commentators, pundits and journalists complaining about the feeble competition that Australia faces for the title. These voices and a perturbing “why bother” attitude seem to arise at any attempt to promote international rugby league. They do not seem to fathom that if we want other countries to get better, to become true competitors, they must be given the opportunity to play the game against elite opposition.

Of course, the tournament isn’t without a certain ridiculousness. One certainly wouldn’t want to hold a microscope to the tenuous national connections among the foreign squads. One example is Joseph Paulo, who was originally aligned to Australia (though never played). In the previous World Cup he captained the USA, but will now line up for Tonga. When it comes to rugby league, players tend to change nationalities like a pair of dirty socks. Having said that, in the context of the competition, I believe it is more than acceptable. It pads inexperienced international teams with veteran players that can not only bring their on-field prowess, but offload their accumulated wisdom onto young international players. Not to mention the acceptance of tangential bloodlines allows countries to actually field enough players for a full team. If you thought Australia would smash the USA with a full team, imagine a game against only their handful of legitimate American citizens. It would be the first 3,000 point game in rugby league history.

Former USA captain Joseph Paulo will play for Tonga in 2017.

Besides, let’s face it. There is more chance of Ricky Stuart marrying a female referee than teams with less than a handful of NRL players winning the competition. But that’s the beauty of a World Cup — the element of the unknown. Like the feeling after a few post-HSC drinks, there is a vibe in the air that anything can happen. Plenty of players will be looking to test their wares against the best the world has to offer, while fringe players will be hoping to show enough talent to receive contract offers from NRL or Super League clubs. Others will just feel lucky to don their international colours, a story to tell the grand kids.

I’ve chosen three players to watch from each team competing at the tournament and have taken care to avoid obvious choices. Jason Taumololo is a beast, the Hayne Plane will be soaring for Fiji and Marty Tapau will run like a steam engine. Surprise, surprise. But what about names you’ve most likely never heard — Corey Makelim, Alex Walmsley, or Theo Fages? That’s what this article is about. Players you may not see in the NRL, or Super League, but will be eager to impress as they represent their countries during the 2017 World Cup campaign.

Below is a list of lesser known players to keep an eye out for throughout the 2017 Rugby League World Cup.


Lebanon

Jason Wehbe will line up for Lebanon.

Coach Brad Fittler has demanded his players learn the national anthem, and serial sentimentalist Robbie Farah has promised to pay for 100 fans to attend their match. Who knows what can happen if Mitchell Moses is firing and Sydney’s substantial Lebanese community get behind them.

Lesser Known Big Three

Jason Wehbe — Graduate of The Hills Sports High School, Wehbe was a star of the Parramatta Eels junior system, where he played Under 20’s with the likes of Junior Paulo and Semi Radradra. In 2017 he traded the football boots for a barista apron after a stint for Japanese rugby club Panasonic Wild Knights. He returns in the centres for the World Cup. He is tall, rangy and extremely skillful, with hands that make the football look like a Tic-Tac. Watch him as a genuine creative option for Mitchell Moses, also a Parramatta junior.

Anthony Layoun — Former Australian Schoolboy and another Parramatta junior, Layoun was the 2017 Under-20’s fullback for the Eels in their loss to Manly. He now finds himself in limbo between NYC and NRL and will undoubtedly be eager to impress club officials to earn a full-time contract. He will be playing fullback for the Cedars, and has an excellent opportunity first up to show his agility and enthusiasm against France. It will be good practice for later matches against England and Australia. A decent performance against either of those, and clubs will be lining up.

Alex Twal — Another Parramatta and Kangaroos junior, Twal made his NRL debut for the Wests Tigers in 2017. He is a powerful front-rower with a massive work rate that brings impact and aggression off the bench for the Tigers. The 21-year-old will have his work cut out for him. He will start in the front row — no mean feat against the dominant packs of England and Australia. With some choice words of motivation from captain Tim Mannah, Twal can make a considerable dent in the competition and prove that he is a player with an exciting future.

Scotland

Danny Brough will captain Scotland for the final time.

Ex-NRL front row forward Luke Douglas will have to lead this youthful squad for them to have any chance. What they lack in experience they will have to substitute for with pride and grit, though an already uphill battle has only been made more difficult by an extensive injury list.

Lesser Known Big Three

Danny Brough — The Braveheart’s long term captain is on the final legs of his international career and will have to channel the inspirational William Wallace for his team to have any chance. He is a veteran halfback with 396 Super League games to his name who plays for the Huddersfield Giants and has previously won a Challenge Cup, the Man of Steel award, and even gained a sole England cap in 2012. He has an excellent kicking game, which he flaunted during the 2013 World Cup, where he kicked 3 40/20s in one match against Tonga.

Luke Douglas — With over 250 NRL games under his belt, Douglas is one of the most experienced players in the competition. He currently plays for St. Helen’s in the Super League where he is signed for the next three years. His hard-working, tough play style will be important to the Brave hearts — though his leadership and experience are where his true value lies.

James Bell — Qualifying through his Aberdeen-born Grandfather, this New Zealand Maori will be proudly flying the Scottish flag. The 23-year-old debuted for the New Zealand Warriors earlier this year, and will cap off a stellar year by competing in the world cup. He admits to Stuff NZ that he doesn’t know much about Scotland, “but I know about my pop. I’m excited to learn more”. The barnstorming forward will have to show plenty of guts as he lines up against his Warriors teammates in the Tongan, New Zealand and Samoan sides.

France

France’s hopes rest on their young captain, Theo Fages

The star recruit for the French is Andrew Johns, who has come onto the coaching staff to assist in the renaissance of French rugby league. They are hopeful of rebuilding their former glory as the dominant rugby league powerhouse that they were in the 50’s and 60’s. Without a single NRL player, it’s going to be a tough task for Les Bleus.

Lesser Known Big Three

Theo Fages — The youngest captain in the competition at 23-years-old, France’s hopes lay directly on his broad shoulders. The young play maker from St. Helen’s will start at five-eighth, and will look to continue his electric form from the UK Super League where he scored eight tries and made over 1300 metres in the recent season. France’s hopes of a playoff birth rest on beating Lebanon in the first round, and it will take a monumental performance from Fages to achieve that.

Fouad Yaha — A robust winger who, at 18 became the youngest player to debut for Catalans Dragons. In the 3 years since his debut he has consistently shown his power and agility on the flanks for the Perpignan based side. In 2017 he made the most metres for the club in a season, and has become a prolific finisher. If he gets a sniff of open space, watch him bounce through defenders like a ball through a pinball machine.

Julian Bousquet — Searching Bousquet’s name online, one of the first links that pops up is a sickening late shot on his French captain Theo Fages. A litany of videos show the 118kg prop throwing his massive frame about with reckless abandon. He is like an out of control semi-trailer — whoever gets in his way better watch out. I wager that he will be one of the more entertaining players to watch in the tournament, though it might be one short lived due to suspension. Au revior.

Italy

Jack Johns will be looking to make his own name as halfback for Italy.

Earlier in the week, The Guardian reported that the Italian side — a cocktail of Aussie-born NRL players, homegrown Italians and rugby union converts — would be relinquishing their match payments in order to assist in funding the development of rugby league in their native Italy. When you thought they couldn’t get more likeable, the team announced that they will be running out under the flag of Una Famiglia (one family). Suddenly I find myself wanting to grow a moustache, buy an espresso machine and pop a pizza in the oven.

Lesser Known Big Three

Nathan Milone — Former captain of the Wests Tigers NYC team, Milone has made 6 NRL appearances. A proud Italian and former under-16’s Italy representative, Milone will be hungry to show his fast feet and high defensive work rate in Group D. He’ll be at home playing alongside good mate and star fullback James Tedesco, who will give him plenty of support sweeping through the backline.

Jack Johns — The son of Knights, NSW and Australia representative Matthew will make his international debut at halfback for the Azzuri. Junior Johns has made an big impression this year while playing for the Newcastle Knights in the Under 20’s, switching between five-eighth and the second row. No doubt Jack will be looking to step out from under the shadow of his famous father and uncle, and carve his own name into rugby league lore. He can go a long way to doing that with a commanding performance for Italy.

Mirco Bergamasco — Not named in the side to take on Ireland in their tournament opener, Bergamasco still earns inclusion in this list. The 34-year-old Italian Rugby Union legend, hearthrob and enthusiastic nudist made the code hop to rugby league last year and is sure to bring a wealth of experience to the Azzuri. If he doesn’t end up getting any time on the field, at least he will paint a pretty image for fans on the sideline. Or perhaps his recent nude calendar appearances and PETA advertisement were hints at his secret calling as a streaker.

USA

Mark Offerdahl will be looking to impress NRL scouts while playing for the USA.

With hopes of rugby league entering the American market with a New York based team in 2019, a good World Cup campaign would be a timely boost to their visibility back home and potentially launch rugby league into the American mainstream. With the strong Fiji and Italy in their pool, the Hawks will need to soar to get through the group stages.

Lesser Known Big Three

Corey Makelim — Hailing from Cabramatta in Sydney’s South-West, Makelim is a Parramatta junior currently playing for the Canberra Raiders feeder club Mounties in the NSW Cup. He is a tenacious fullback with a quick turn of speed, footwork like ballet dancer and no hesitation attacking the high-ball. One of seven USA representatives who play in the Australian lower grades, he will use the World Cup as a launching pad to propel himself into a position in the NRL.

Mark Offerdahl — Captain America is the son of an American Korean War veteran though born in the rural Australian town of Goondiwindi (population of 5,000). He has played league all over the world — from Carcassonne in France, Connecticut, London, and home in Queensland where he now lives. Offerdahl is a farm boy at heart and a hard-running, hard-working front-rower. He is also without a club for 2018, so expect a fireworks display as he looks to attract a career lifeline.

Joe Eichner — The backrower has only played one game for the Toronto Wolfpack in the third-tier English League, but in true American fashion his mouth has done some running before the first whistle. The 26-year-old building science graduate took the time to call out Jarryd Hayne, telling The Townsville Bulletin that he’s “excited to be running up against him. Hopefully we can lay a shot on him,” before adding, “I really want to put a show on for everybody.” Bitter NSW fans will be waiting with baited breath, hoping the young Yankee can ground the Hayne Plane. And if there’s anything Americans are good at, it’s putting on a show.

Ireland

Kylie Amor while channel his inner bushranger as he plays in his first and last World Cup.

The Emerald Isle has gone mostly under the radar going into the World Cup, always a comfortable position for underdogs. They lack the experience and natural talent of other squads, but I have no doubt that their fans will be loud, proud and as drunk as Blake Ferguson in Origin camp.

Lesser Known Big Three

James Hasson — Previously playing 40 games for Manly in the NRL, the 25-year-old has built a solid career as a prop for Wakefield Trinity in the UK Super League. Hasson’s experience will be essential in a team distinctly lacking NRL experience. The World Cup is the perfect platform for a player like Hasson to step up for his country, and stick it to the more dominant international sides — particularly coming off the bench, running at fatigued middlemen.

Kyle Amor — A long time bridesmaid in England’s train on squad, Amor decided to make the deflection to Ireland. You won’t miss his flaming bush of a beard and wild mane of tangled hair as he pummels into the defensive line. At 30, Amor admits this will most likely be his last World Cup, and coming off a disappointing end to the Super League season where he was dropped for the last 3 games— he has a point to prove, and nothing to lose. A dangerous combination.

Scott Grix — Celebrated by his club coach at Wakefield Trinity as the club’s best player, the Super League journeyman had a hand in 21 tries for the season, and scored 8 himself. The Irish will need plenty of his attacking flair at the back if they are to upset Italy, or perhaps more likely, Papua New Guinea. To get a win against either they will need some good old-fashioned Irish luck.

Wales

Welsh fans will be hoping young gun Regan Grace (left) will have plenty to celebrate.

One of the youngest teams competition in the tournament, coach John Kear is relying on a handful of steady Super League veterans to guide the inexperienced Welsh team around the park. They have had an encouraging lead up to the 2017 World Cup — with a 50–0 win over Serbia, and a 20–14 win over Italy (without their Aussie contingent) — they will be feeling quietly confident of causing a few upsets.

Lesser Known Big Three

Regan Grace — The Welsh Israel Folau rocketed into the Super League earlier this year with a fantastic debut for St. Helens, including a gravity defying try. Born in the valleys of Wales, smack bang in rugby union country, Grace started playing rugby league after coming across a poster for the foreign sport. Within a few years he was not only playing on the wing for St. Helens, but nominated for the Super League Young Player of the Year Award. Now, at just 20 years of age, Regan will be gracing the fields of Australia in the Rugby League World Cup.

Morgan Knowles — Another 20 year old lining up for Wales, and another nominee for the Super League Young Player of the Year Award in 2017. Knowles is looking to prove himself as a tough middle man against the best players in the world, telling the St. Helen’s Star earlier in the week, “I want to stand up and be counted.” His resilience will certainly be tested against the PNG forward pack, renowned for their steel frames and crushing tackles.

Craig Kopczak — When the Welsh captain leads his team out against PNG at Port Moresby on Saturday night, it will be an extra special occasion. His 20th cap for the nation, ten years to the day from his debut — coincidentally against PNG too. Winner of the Wales Rugby League Player of the Year Award and Super League Champion with the Bradford Bulls, the beefy prop is used to success. With the embarrassing statistic that Wales hasn’t won a World Cup game since 2000, Kopczak will be looking to lead the Welsh dragons to at least one victory.

Fiji

Viliame Kikau will have plenty of try scoring opportunities if he keeps up his regular season form for Fiji.

While not serious contenders for the World Cup title, Fiji are favourite to take out another title — the most entertaining team. While any person in NSW will tell you that Jarryd Hayne had a disappointing season, he usually performs for Fiji. Add Suliasi Vunivalu, flowing jugs of kava and daily prayers. It’s a concoction that will ensure that Fiji Bati will be the most relaxed, spiritually synchronised and exciting team in the competition.

Lesser Known Big Three

Viliame Kikau — After a destructive grand final performance for the Penrith Panthers reserve grade side in the Intrust SuperCup Final, the panthers resigned the Fijian wrecking ball for 2 more years. Kikau had the PNG Hunter’s right edge running for cover like a woman with a face full of makeup in pouring rain. Fiji have plenty of flash on the edges, but forwards win matches — and Kikau is a game winner.

Apisai Koroisau — Everything starts with the dummy half, and with Koroisau, Fiji have one of the best in the NRL. The little whippet was outstanding at hooker for Manly, a major reason for their late push into the finals. He has bundles of skill and talent, but that is nothing compared to his toughness. He throws his body in front of anything that comes his way with reckless abandon. His courageous play has led to praise from perhaps the greatest Fijian of all — Petero Civoniceva. The Broncos legend told the Daily Telegraph he feels fortunate to have a player of Koroisau’s calibre in the side.

Jacob Saifiti — He may have admitted to wearing lucky underwear during each match he plays, but Saifiti’s success has little to do with luck. The 21-year-old recently renewed his contract with the Newcastle Knights after a few stellar years. His play style matches that of his team. Blue-collar, hardworking, no nonsense. Fiji are known for their flashy plays and fancy footwork, but when the going gets tough, Saifiti is the type of player that they need.

Papua New Guinea

Segeyaro has an opportunity to impress for PNG after a few stilted seasons with the Sharks.

If rugby league is a religion in PNG, then 28th of October, 2017 is the first coming of Jesus. On that day, PNG will host their first ever World Cup match against Wales in Port Moresby. I do not envy the first Welsh player unlucky enough to have a hit up. In the words of the great Andrew Voss, “if passion can be converted into points they will rack up plenty.” I can’t guarantee wins, but I can guarantee that each team they play will wake up battered and bruised the following morning.

Lesser Known Big Three

Gary Lo — Hit the rugby league world like a strike of lightning, scoring 24 tries in the Intrust SuperCup for the PNG Hunters in their debut season. His stellar season led to him signing with English club side Gateshead Thunder, before in an inexplicable occurrence, he abandoned the club in the middle of the night and returned to PNG. The move was so sudden and shocking that Thunder coach Stanley Gene filed a missing person’s report. He now plays for Sheffield Eagles in the English league, where he scored a bewildering 27 tries this season. PNG will hope he doesn’t go missing for them during this World Cup.

Luke Page — A few years ago Page enjoyed some moderate fanfare after a compilation of his hard running made its way around the internet. Since then his aggressive charges, like that of a wounded bull, have become his trademark. Page hasn’t managed to carve out a career for himself in the NRL, but he still terrorises players in the QLD Cup, where he captains the Burleigh Bears. At 26-years-old its not too late for a lifeline. A few scattered defenders might be his passport to NRL stardom.

James Segeyaro — One of the more well-known players to make the list, Segeyaro has been hot and cold over the last few NRL seasons. Injury and off-field dramas have played a part, but with his broken hand recovered and past incidents behind him, he is primed for a big performance at the world cup. His elusive darts out of hooker and enthusiastic line-speed in defence will ensure he is one of PNG’s best players.

Tonga

Taukieaho will be a very dangerous man for Tonga

New coach Kristian Woolf has been baying to the moon — and his pack has answered the call. His howls were so persuading, that Andrew Fifita (Australia) and Jason Taumololo (New Zealand) decided to join the Pacific nation. Overnight they became an underdog to win the tournament. Whether they can put the pieces together is yet to be seen, but if they play to their potential, they are a genuine tournament threat.

Lesser Known Big Three

Sio Siua Taukieaho —In one game last year for the Sydney Roosters, the bench forward Taukieaho raked up a massive 209m off 19 hitups, with 20 tackles. That’s a stat line that any NRL forward would be proud of, a highlight of most careers. But Taukieaho is only the second most prolific metre eater in the Tongan pack. How, you ask? Well, in one of the more bewildering statistics in Australia sport — his forward partner Jason Taumololo averages 19 hitups, 201m and 27 tackles. It speaks to the greatness of Taumololo when his achievements drown the impressive accomplishments of his Tongan teammate. Taukieaho may be playing second fiddle, but that’s like AC/DC playing back up music for the Beatles. They’re still great.

Ben Murdoch-Masila —Weighing a whopping 150kg when brought over from New Zealand by the Wests Tigers as a school boy, the damaging forward dropped 40kg and became a devastating weapon for the Tigers NYC team. After becoming a regular first grader he moved to Penrith, where he couldn’t maintain his spot in the NRL. He moved to the UK Super League to play for the Salford Red Devils. After being selected in the Super League Team of the Year in 2017, he was poached by Warrington Wolves for a massive £175,000 ($301,000). He will be looking to prove his worth.

Sione Katoa — A former junior Kiwis representative and current captain of the Penrith Panthers Intrust SuperCup team where he moves between hooker and lock. His versatility is a strength, though he is suited to dummy half — swooping on the ball and bedazzling tired defenders with his fast feet, upper body strength, and deceptive size. He’s an old style defender who is more likely to take you around the waist and dump you on your backside than wrestle you like a WWE hopeful.

Samoa

Ken Maumalo will have plenty of charges for Samoa.

The least fancied of the Pacific Nations, which I’m sure is okay with them. Their squad boasts a balance of grizzled veterans and hungry up-and-comers looking to prove themselves. With Frank Pritchard captaining Toa Samoa in what is most likely his last World Cup, write off the Samoans at your own risk.

Lesser Known Big Three

Ken Maumalo — Manu Vatuvei left the Warriors for England this year, and it is no coincidence that they rushed to confirm the signature of Maumalo — he is known among his teammates as the mini beast. Standing at 1.91m, 105kg and akin to tip-toe down the sideline like a colossal tattooed ballerina, Maumalo is one to watch. Not only is he an excellent finisher, he isn’t afraid to venture into the middle and help out the forwards with his shoulder shattering carries.

Ben Roberts — Playing just under 150 NRL games between the Canterbury Bulldogs, Parramatta Eels and Melbourne Storm, Roberts has proven himself physically at the highest level. It is mentally that he fell apart — struggling with the role of commanding a football team around the paddock and making the right decisions consistently. All reports say he was excellent for Castleford Tigers in the Super League this season, but on my search the main thread that came up was this terrible mistake in his own in-goal. Regardless, on his day Roberts can be brilliant — let’s hope his World Cup campaign is more lemonade than lemon.

Herman Ese’ese — Coming off the bench for Samoa’s massive pack, Ese’ese is one of the most desired young props in the NRL. The 110kg 23-year-old recently declined an offer from the Broncos to sign a 3 year deal with the Newcastle Knights. During the week captain Frank Pritchard told Nine that, “we’ve just got to do what we do best, play to our strengths”. Ese’ese, and other gigantic forwards like him are Samoa’s strength.

New Zealand

Nelson Asofa-Solomona will cause plenty of nightmares when he plays his first World Cup for New Zealand.

Fielding a depleted lineup due to injury, cocaine-related exclusion and player defection to Tonga, New Zealand demonstrates a fine example of how to have the worst possible World Cup preparation. But they just have too much talent to completely write off — Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Marty Tapau, Shaun Johnson to name a few. If 2008 taught us anything, hell hath no fury like a kiwi scorned.

Lesser Known Big Three

Nelson Asofa-Solomona — Recently labelled as the biggest, heaviest NRL player of the modern era by Fox Sports Lab, Asofa-Solomona, who stands at 6 foot 5 inches and 118kg, comes to the World Cup fresh off a premiership win with the Melbourne Storm. Add to his impressive size nimble footwork and hands softer than a baby’s bottom, and you have New Zealand’s secret weapon. Talking to the Sydney Morning Herald during the week, he explained his own secret: “run hard, tackle hard”. He’ll be doing both for his country.

Danny Levi — Known as the unofficial barber for his Knights teammates, Levi will move from cutting hair to running down the manicured lawns of Mt. Smart Stadium when he makes his debut for the Kiwis. Originally from Wellington, Levi made his NRL in 2015 — now, 2 years later, he will debut for his country. He is an old style hooker; crafty, sneaky, he fights for every metre. He’ll need to if New Zealand are to make an impact in the competition.

Jordan Rapana — Is eligible for four countries — New Zealand, Australia, Cook Island and Italy — but for Canberra’s favourite aggressive winger, the choice was always simple. New Zealand. Choosing the kiwis shows Rapana’s pride in his Maori heritage, one that he puts above any other blood that runs through his veins. He’ll be looking to continue his prolific try scoring form that saw him score 21 tries in 2017. Many thought he was unlucky to miss out on Winger of the Year at the Dally M Awards. This competition can act to show that the award snub was an error of judgment.

England

English fans will be hoping their Man of Steel proves to be the Superman England needs.

The Poms always enter the World Cup with such high hopes. Stories of forwards barnstorming through Super League defenses, new additions, renewed hope. Like clockwork, they’re usually beaten early in the tourney and their confidence fades like a fresh haircut from Danny Levi. England and New Zealand must have gone to the same school of self-sabotage, as the poms had to leave behind a star due to a cocaine-related incident too. Unbelievably, it’s the second world cup Zak Hardaker has missed due to cocaine abuse.

Lesser Known Big Three

Luke Gale — Crowned 2017 Man of Steel (the Super League’s version of the Dally M), Castleford’s superstar half-back comes Down Under with the hopes of crown and country placed firmly on his back. Gale’s confidence should be sky high when he runs out in the opening match against Australia. He will be hoping to display a winning combination with five-eighth Gareth Widdop, as England’s hopes will live or die on their chemistry, or lack-thereof. He’s known for his short kicking game, having set up 20 tries in the Super League. The British fans back home will be hoping that Gale can do what so many English stars have failed to— convert their form at home to the international game.

Sean O’Loughlin — Part of the last England team to beat Australia in 2006, the captain is hoping to stop living off former glory, and forge new legends for his nation. The 34-year-old missed the previous World Cup due to injury, so in what will be his last outing, there will be no holds barred. A victory would be the icing on a wedding cake of a career — 400 Super League games, 11 caps for Great Britain, 11 for England. A victory for England would mean they could stop talking about a win 11-years ago. They will have an opportunity opening night when they face the Kangaroos, and O’Loughlin will have to lead from the front like Jamie Peacock did all those years ago.

Alex Walmsley — The 27-year-old tall timber from Dewsey (home of the Burgess brothers) will make his debut off the bench tomorrow night in the front row, against the best rugby league team in the world. A trained surveyor by trade will be charging into the most expensive forward pack in the competition — Jake Trbojevic, David Klemmer, Boyd Cordner. A member of the Super League Team of the Year in 2015 and three-times nominated for the Man of Steel Award, Walmsley is ready to give it to the Aussies.

Australia

Billy Slater will be looking to cap off an incredible comeback season with the Kangaroos.

Nothing about the Australian team is unknown. They’re the most famous team in the world, with the greatest players, teams and leagues in the world. For them, this tournament is a lose-lose. If they win, it’s “I told you so,” if they lose, “they really messed that up”. Luckily, the Kangaroos and losing go together like a meat pie and chocolate sauce. Like a Playstation and a cold bath. Like Mitchell Pearce and alcohol. They don’t. For the Aussies, I’ve chosen players who are primed for a particularly strong tournament.

Lesser Known Big Three

Billy Slater — Has had a season fit for a movie script. He returned from almost two years out of the game to save Queensland from certain State of Origin defeat, and then proceeded to help Melbourne to a dominate Grand Final victory. To top off the fairy tale, Slater dons the green-and-gold again, after at one point, he questioned whether he would make it back from the double-shoulder surgery that threatened his career. What more could he do? Winning another World Cup with Australia would be the perfect Hollywood ending.

Michael Morgan — The man that almost single-handedly led the battered Cowboys to the grand final without Jonathan Thurston is charged with doing the impossible again — filling in for one of the greatest rugby league players to ever play the game. Of course, that isn’t possible. But it is a giant leap forward for Morgan, who has otherwise played an interchange utility role for the Kangaroos. He will be looking to continue his impressive form.

Jake Trbojevic — Everyone’s favourite Labrador mannered front-rower. Though don’t let his puppy dog smile and ruffled straw hair trick you, he’s a vicious animal. After being one of NSW’s best players and an outstanding season for Manly, Jake caps it off with his first ever rugby league World Cup. He’s beaten out names like Wade Graham, Tyson Frizell and Josh McGuire for a starting spot. You won’t find someone more proud to play for their country, nor a more consistent, trustworthy player. He’ll no doubt bring those attributes to the Kangaroos this October.


Did I leave someone off? Or you think I’m completely wrong? Leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts on the 2017 Rugby League World Cup.

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