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The top ten most influential players at the 2017 Rugby League World Cup

Matt Cleary Columnist

By Matt Cleary, Matt Cleary is a Roar Expert

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    After being overlooked for Australia, James Tedesco will be in action for Italy at the Rugby League World Cup. (AAP Image/Action Photographics, Rob Cox)

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    The Rugby League World Cup is upon us and in great news for fans there’s star quality in every squad.

    Looking at those squads I’ve come up with the ultimate list of players who are likely to have the most impact for their respective teams and will be worth the ticket price just for their exploits.

    10 – James Tedesco (Italy)

    Named the NRL’s best player by his peers, it seems a lack of exposure at finals time has seen James Tedesco unable to force his way into Australia’s best 24.

    Mal Meninga, you would suggest, knows more about rugby league than most, and he can certainly make a strong case for Billy Slater, Darius Boyd, Josh Dugan and Tom Trbojevic, for they are all super players.

    But Tedesco’s omission is the biggest clanger since Clang beat The Oscars in the 1995 Silver Slipper.

    Yet Australia’s loss is the Federazione Italiana’s – and the greater World Cup’s – gain.

    Because it will be interesting and really quite cool to see Tedesco zipping about in Azzurri blue. He’s a ripper, Jimmy T.

    9 – Jason Taumalolo (Tonga)

    The game’s greatest metre-eating monster man, Jason Taumalolo regularly clocks over 200 metres worth of hit-ups and hard-charges, throwing his considerable bulk at the game’s greatest D-lines, and bending them like a Brahman bull tearing into a rabbit-proof fence.

    And now he’s turning out for the Kingdom of Tonga, the land which considers people the size of Taumalolo as average.

    And with Andrew Fifita also turning out for Mate Ma’a Tonga their odds of semi-final action are being reeled in like so many marlins.

    8 – Jarryd Hayne (Fiji)

    Fiji boasts some serious strike power around the park.

    Suliasi Vunivalu is a leaping try-scorer on the wing. Api Koroisau runs dangerous lines around the ruck. And the game’s premier “bash brothers” – Korbin, and Ashton Sims – will wreak their particular form of jolting man-action upon their fellow belters in the middle of the park.

    But the X-man of Fiji is, of course, Jarryd “Hayne Plane and/or Train” Hayne.

    When he’s “on” – and only Jarryd can tell you when that’s going to be – Hayne is the most devastating runner of the rugby league ball in the game.

    More X-factor than the show X-Factor.

    Jarryd Hayne Gold Coast Titans NRL Rugby League 2017

    (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

    7 – Josh Papalii (Samoa)

    If they ever re-make the 1964 James Bond film Goldfinger they could do worse than cast Josh Papalii as Oddjob, the hat-flinging henchman.

    After missing out on Kangaroos selection Josh Papalii should be a big influence for the Samoan side.

    Papalii is arguably the best second rower in the world and he will be surrounded by a fantastic pack.

    He’s going to hit brutally and run the ball with utter ferocity. You can guarantee it.

    6 – Gareth Widdop (England)

    As they pore over the embers of another initially promising yet ultimately disappointing, even wretched season, St George Illawarra Dragons will find one shining light: star five-eighth Gareth Widdop.

    Honed hard and up-skilled in Craig Bellamy’s Melbourne machine, Widdop has been the Dragons’ best and most consistent player the last four seasons.

    Now 28, he brings to this World Cup a fine mesh of experience, fitness, talent and toughness.

    While slightly understated in his play, Widdop has a super-fine pass and a highly accurate kick. Wayne Bennett will run all his plays off the durable, consistent, reliable Yorkshireman.

    England’s most valuable player.

    England's Gareth Widdop

    (AP Photo/NZPA, Ross Setford)

    5 – Josh Hodgson (England)

    England has a strong, mobile, skilful forward pack.

    Sam Burgess runs genuinely frightening straight and hard lines. You’d sooner step in front a bus.

    James Graham could play five-eighth and often does.

    Elliott Whitehead has skill on the edge and around the ruck. And they’ll all run off the No.9 Josh Hodgson, the man to set all these people free, the man who’ll provide quality service and give these big yins soft and sympathetic ball going forward, the best way of going.

    Complements fine passing and kicking with a nimble running game that frightens lumbering forwards. Cameron Smith is the best No.9 in the game. Hodgson is next best.

    4 – Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (New Zealand)

    When Benji Marshall first turned up at Keebra Park High School on Queensland’s Gold Coast, talent scouts sent breathless reports back to clubs that they’d found a kid who could step in mid-air, such were the funky nature of Marshall’s movements.

    Today, across rugby league, “Benji steps” are being ripped off all over the shop, as forwards and backs float up to the line and jag of whatever leg comes to mind.

    But the best at it is Kiwis fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. And if this human pinball can leverage any sort of space in broken play behind a forward pack including strong-arm Martin Taupau, he will set this competition afire.

    3 – Martin Taupau (New Zealand)

    In a game in which defenders are professionally trained in the dark arts of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, the ability to offload in the tackle and set speed men free in “broken” or “second-phase” play is incalculable.

    Step forward the game’s premier off-load man, Martin Taupau.

    Regarded as the strongest man in the game – he can bench-press 180kg, dead-lift 310kg, which combined is the equivalent of picking up Winx – Taupau’s ability to free an arm and pop sympathetic ball for the likes of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Shaun Johnson will be pivotal to New Zealand’s chances of making inroads into structured D-lines.

    Coaches hate the chaotic nature of broken field rugby league.

    Taupau is Captain Chaos.

    2 – Cooper Cronk (Australia)

    With his great mate and colleague Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk is the beating heart and head of the Australian side, the lynchpin between thundering forwards and free-running backs.

    Cronk is the man who’ll pilot the competition’s hot favourites and make the right decisions at the right time. He’s cool, he’s clinical, he’s very, very good.

    Cronk’s been doing this stuff since 2006 when he was pitched into the halfback role at Melbourne Storm because they didn’t have anyone else.

    It’s weird to think he wasn’t always a halfback.

    Cronk came to Storm as back-rower, fullback, hooker, bench-man. Today he’s the best halfback at the World Cup. The man.

    Melbourne Storm player Cooper Cronk poses with the Dally M medal at the 2013 NRL Dally M Awards at The Star in Sydney, Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013. (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

    (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

    1 – Cameron Smith (Australia)

    As it is for Melbourne Storm and as it is for Queensland, so is it for Australia.

    Cameron Smith is the fulcrum, the power generator of all that’s effective and good about Australia. Deft touches, simple work done perfectly; Billy Slater reckons he hasn’t had a bad pass from Smith in fourteen years.

    Smith’s combination with Slater and Cooper Cronk is close to telepathic, so fluently do they run their pet plays.

    You’ll see them this World Cup: the three-card passing trick at the ruck; the grubber back in-field from Smith’s preternatural left boot; the dummies; the angles; the shows-and-the-goes. Opponents know all his tricks.

    Still can’t stop him.

    The world’s best are coming! Don’t miss your chance to witness history at the 2017 RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD CUP. Buy your tickets here.

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    The Crowd Says (72)

    • Roar Guru

      November 3rd 2017 @ 8:27am
      Riley Pettigrew said | November 3rd 2017 @ 8:27am | ! Report

      Ten most influential NRL players at the 2017 Rugby League World Cup maybe.

      1. Cameron Smith (Australia)
      2. James Graham (England)
      3. Danny Brough (Scotland)
      4. Jason Taumalolo (Tonga)
      5. Mitchell Moses (Lebanon)
      6. Luke Gale (England)
      7. Cooper Cronk (Australia)
      8. Jarryd Hayne (Fiji)
      9. Ase Boas (PNG)
      10. Liam Finn (Ireland)

      Notable omissions: Billy Slater, Michael Morgan, Sean O’Loughlin, Gareth Widdop, Theo Fages, Shaun Johnson, Simon Mannering, Leeson Ah Mau, Wartovo Puara, David Mead, Craig Kopczak, Apisai Koroisau, James Tedesco, Terry Campese

      Bring on Week 2! Plenty of exciting matches: New Zealand vs Scotland, Samoa vs Tonga, PNG vs Ireland…

      • November 3rd 2017 @ 9:36am
        Albo said | November 3rd 2017 @ 9:36am | ! Report

        Yours is a much better list of WC influencers , Riley !
        No sure which games Matt has been watching, but seems he hasn’t watched too many Raiders games this year.

      • November 3rd 2017 @ 11:14am
        Justin Kearney said | November 3rd 2017 @ 11:14am | ! Report

        Ho hum. Andrew the negative nelly failing to stir the pot yet again.

      • November 3rd 2017 @ 11:23am
        not so super said | November 3rd 2017 @ 11:23am | ! Report

        andrew, i can send you a medal for supporting a code with more countries?

      • November 3rd 2017 @ 3:34pm
        spruce moose said | November 3rd 2017 @ 3:34pm | ! Report


        So the only difference between league and union is when ‘most influential players’ are named in union, they are filled with players from Australia, England, NZ and South Africa.

        Wow…rugby is truly global then.

      • November 3rd 2017 @ 3:42pm
        AussieIrish said | November 3rd 2017 @ 3:42pm | ! Report

        I am a sporting tragic. I read all the articles on the Roar, Rugby, AFL, League, Soccer, anything to do with Australian sport. I played Rugby, at grade level, in three countries and since retiring I have coached and managed sides, in Sydney. I played one game of League, which was a disaster. I did not understand the differences in positional play between Rugby and League, nor was I fit enough. Now as to you constant jibes about League, you are an embarrassment to other code supporter, who correspond on the Roar. You appear to be a Rugby supporter but I do not recall you or your many other nom-de plumes expressing an opinion on Rugby threads. I just wonder how you get the time to be so offensive, considering that school only has two breaks in a day, which mean you must be writing when you should be learning. None of the League correspondents pretend that the RLWC is more than what it is. They all discuss it current state of development without gilding the lily and, although you are too young to remember, Rugby’s World Cup was the same when it was just starting off; French, Scottish and other nations playing with a good spattering of All Blacks and sides being beaten by 70 plus points. Go to the Rugby threads and write there.

        • November 3rd 2017 @ 4:55pm
          beepee said | November 3rd 2017 @ 4:55pm | ! Report

          Brilliant AussieIrish !!! Well said.

        • November 3rd 2017 @ 6:33pm
          Andrew said | November 3rd 2017 @ 6:33pm | ! Report

          Aussie Irish! Haha this isnt Riley or Sleiman by any chance???
          You 2 have a history of this

          • Roar Guru

            November 4th 2017 @ 7:46am
            Sleiman Azizi said | November 4th 2017 @ 7:46am | ! Report

            Hi Andrew.

            What do we have a history of?

    • Roar Rookie

      November 3rd 2017 @ 8:35am
      Don said | November 3rd 2017 @ 8:35am | ! Report

      “…Papalii is arguably the best second rower in the world…”

      I’d be interested to hear an argument on why he’d even be considered among the top 5 in the NRL – let alone the world. He’s considered the 4th best 2nd row option for QLD.

      • November 3rd 2017 @ 9:28am
        Albo said | November 3rd 2017 @ 9:28am | ! Report

        Spot on Don ! I think Papalii has had an ordinary season for the Raiders this year, and was barely sighted for Samoa in New Zealand last week. Not much influence likely to be shown compared to others that influence their team’s performances ( eg Liam Finn for Ireland or Mitchell Moses for Lebanon).

    • November 3rd 2017 @ 8:44am
      nerval said | November 3rd 2017 @ 8:44am | ! Report

      I don’t think Hodgson is even the best no.9 in the England squad. He had a disappointing season for Canberra last time around and England looked markedly superior, playing with greater urgency and direction once James Roby came onto the field. The English right wing, McGillvary also looked as good as anyone in the competition. Let’s see if he keeps it up.

      • November 3rd 2017 @ 9:30am
        Albo said | November 3rd 2017 @ 9:30am | ! Report

        Yep ! Agree, James Roby should be starting no 9 for England. Hodgson’s form is nowhere near his 2016 year.

    • November 3rd 2017 @ 8:57am
      theHunter said | November 3rd 2017 @ 8:57am | ! Report

      I thought the whole purpose of this article was going to be about influential players for each team in the World Cup?

      • November 4th 2017 @ 8:57pm
        damo said | November 4th 2017 @ 8:57pm | ! Report

        I saw a comment on another article that put Mr Cleary in the same category as the click bait king David Lord & after reading this it seems it might be true.
        Reads like it was written in a few minutes without any real thought & possibly designed to provoke outrage or similar.
        Pretty average much like the 10 players.

    • November 3rd 2017 @ 9:03am
      Fred said | November 3rd 2017 @ 9:03am | ! Report

      Tedesco didn’t do much in week 1.

      I’d include David Mead and the Boas brothers for PNG; and Mitch Moses for the Cedars.

      • November 3rd 2017 @ 11:45am
        beepee said | November 3rd 2017 @ 11:45am | ! Report

        I thought Tedesco was hamstrung by not having good ball from quality halves, and for not being on the end of quality plays from their backline. At times it looked like he was trying something by himself, but neededmore to work with. So maybe not his fault entirely.

      • November 3rd 2017 @ 1:45pm
        JohnB said | November 3rd 2017 @ 1:45pm | ! Report

        He also wasn’t “Named the NRL’s best player by his peers”. He did win an award voted on by opposing NRL players week by week on a 3/2/1 basis but that’s a totally different thing.

    • November 3rd 2017 @ 9:25am
      spruce moose said | November 3rd 2017 @ 9:25am | ! Report

      Mitch Moses is a must in this list. He is the reason why the Cedars are off to the quarter finals.

      • November 3rd 2017 @ 1:31pm
        greenbridge1930 said | November 3rd 2017 @ 1:31pm | ! Report

        Born and bred Australian. Never played for Lebanon in Lebanon. Love it.

        • Roar Guru

          November 3rd 2017 @ 2:13pm
          Sleiman Azizi said | November 3rd 2017 @ 2:13pm | ! Report

          So do the Lebanese fans in Lebanon who are supporting the team.

        • November 3rd 2017 @ 3:36pm
          spruce moose said | November 3rd 2017 @ 3:36pm | ! Report

          Your point would stand if only the article was highlighting that.

          But it’s not, and you are rendered moot as a result.

          • November 3rd 2017 @ 8:45pm
            Peter said | November 3rd 2017 @ 8:45pm | ! Report

            Spruce Moose, good evening. Possibly with your name you are North American. That would explain why you would use “moot” to mean not valid, or closed down, or no longer up for discussion, or some such. In Australian English, “moot” means exactly the opposite – open for discussion, not settled, debatable. In Anglo-Saxon England, a “moot point” was one which was to be settled by debate in the moot or council.
            I am actually not trying to be nit-picky. The interpretation you use completely reverses the meaning!
            I would be very happy if greenbridge was rendered mute.

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