On the back of a fantastic Four Nations final last Saturday night, the 2014 rugby league season is now officially done and dusted.
The international tournament at the end of the year produced some of the best football we saw throughout a high quality year in rugby league.
In 2014 we witnessed another captivating State of Origin series which saw the NSW Blues finally steal the shield away from Queensland and end the Maroons dominant eight year streak. The images of Jarryd Hayne, Paul Gallen and co. celebrating victory in front of 84,000 at ANZ stadium will be etched into rugby league folklore.
Then of course there was the other fairytale ending to arguably the most competitive NRL season we’ve ever seen, which resulted in the South Sydney Rabbitohs ending their 43-year title drought by lifting the NRL premiership after defeating a gallant Canterbury Bulldogs outfit in the grand final.
Scenes from the aftermath of the 2014 grand final will also be living in our memories for a long time – whether it is the image of Sam Burgess crouched down with tears flowing down his busted-up face – or the multiple scenes of long suffering Rabbitohs fans rejoicing as the pain of 1999 is buried.
Rugby league fans were certainly treated to some amazing matches in 2014 and although the sport has lost a couple of its biggest stars, there are certainly plenty of genuine superstars left to pick up the slack. But for now I’m going to focus on those that I see as ‘the world class’.
Around this time each year I start pondering and discussing with mates who would make up the World XIII, the best players in each position combining to make a team that would beat any other side that was put in front of them.
If there was a time in the near future that the result of a rugby league game would decide your fate, this would be the team to pick. So without further ado, this is my current World XIII. I have also included four interchange spots and an 18th man to boot.
1. Billy Slater
2. Ryan Hall
3. Greg Inglis
4. Jarryd Hayne
5. Manu Vatuvei
6. Johnathan Thurston
7. Cooper Cronk
8. Jesse Bromwich
9. Cameron Smith (capt)
10. James Graham
11. Greg Bird
12. Sam Burgess
13. Paul Gallen
Interchange: Matt Scott, Andrew Fifita, Sean O’Loughlin, Shaun Johnson
18th man: Jason Taumalolo
If such a team if it was assembled, you would hate to be on the other side of the field. Although we have a plethora of talent in the fullback position, regardless of age or declining speed – Billy Slater is still the game’s best.
You only have to look as far back as his performances in the big games this year. The large talent pool of fullbacks is evidenced by the centre pairing of Greg Inglis and Jarryd Hayne. Both line-up in the number one jersey for their individual clubs but easily transform into the best left and right side centre in the world respectively.
A centre pairing of two incredibly gifted and skilled athletes is complemented with damaging ball running try-scorers occupying the wing positions. Manu ‘the Beast’ Vatuvei lines up on one side with the world’s best winger, Ryan Hall, on the other. Just imagine the damage those two could cause outside Inglis and Hayne.
The halves’ pairing contains the games best thinkers in JT and Cooper Cronk, who will make up the spine with their Australian and Queensland skipper, Cameron Smith.
All three of these players are automatic selections for the time being – with Smith taking the leadership role that he fulfils so easily.
The forward pack has some size and grunt about it. While the selected front rowers have that in spades, both Graham and Bromwich also have incredible ball playing skills to go with their size and work rate.
The British Bulldog could lay claim to MVP honours during the NRL finals series, while Bromwich had a breakthrough year in 2014.
Those two will be joined in the forward pack with a back-row of Sam Burgess and Greg Bird with the NSW captain, Paul Gallen locking the scrum.
All three will make plenty of metres, a mountain of tackles and can offload at will. Burgess was the best forward in the game this season. Gallen has carried that tag for the best part of a decade, his absence from the Australian team was definitely felt in the Four Nations.
Greg Bird might be the most contentious selection in the side as there is currently so much talent in the second row position across the NRL and ESL. However each time Bird puts on a representative jersey, he leaves the field as one of the best on ground and for that he gets a spot in the World XIII.
So that’s my current rugby league World XIII, I’m sure Roarers are bound to question some of those selection however I’ll back this side to get the cake against any other combination you throw out there.
Well that basically wraps up another terrific season of rugby league for me. Season 2014 produced high quality at all levels of the game and although it’s only just concluded, the 2015 season still couldn’t come quick enough – bring it on!