What a blast the 2017 Rugby League World Cup has been so far – and now that we’ve reached the quarter-final stage, it’s going to get even better!
The task of picking a team of the tournament from the 14 sides that contested the pools section is difficult – there were so many terrific performers.
You’ve got to take into account the quality of the opposition in some cases, but you’ve also got to recognise and reward the up-and-coming nations.
I’ve settled on a 13 that includes at least a couple of players whom many will regard as surprise selections.
It’s a mix of four players each from Australia and Tonga – including an all-Aussie-Tonga forward pack – two from England, and one each from New Zealand, Fiji and Papua New Guinea.
So here goes:
Fullback: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (New Zealand)
RTS has powered the Kiwis from out of the back, with a massive total of 657 run metres in his three games.
Even when New Zealand lost to Tonga, he still came up with 222 metres, four line-breaks and two tries.
All up, he has three tries, seven line-breaks, two line-break assists, four try assists and three offloads. He has been the excitement machine we all knew he could be at this level.
Wing: Jermaine McGillvary (England)
Excellent finisher who has been building throughout this tournament. Came up with 218 metres, five line-breaks and two tries in his 65 minutes as the Poms completed their pool duties with a 36-6 win over France on Sunday.
Has had a win at the judiciary as well, where he was found not guilty of biting Lebanon’s Robbie Farah. He’ll be hungry for more tries in the finals.
Centre: Michael Jennings (Tonga)
It was a shame injury ruled him out of Tonga’s huge game against the Kiwis, but they went on to get a win without him.
He was typically elusive during their first two games, producing the speed and skill that balances with the team’s power play through the forwards.
He has run for 270 metres in his two games, scoring five tries and registering three line-breaks, two line-break assists and one offload.
Centre: Josh Dugan (Australia)
‘Doogs’ cops plenty of criticism from people who think he shouldn’t be in either the New South Wales or Australian teams, but he continues to aim up. He’s not your classic centre, but he gets the job done in his own fashion.
In two games he has scored two tries and made two line-breaks, two offloads and registered one try assist, all while running for 389 metres.
Wing: Suliasi Vunivalu (Fiji)
He scores at virtually one try per game for Melbourne Storm in the NRL, so it’s no surprise he’s been a sensation in the World Cup. He’s always a chance of getting across the line and has spread his tries out, with two bags of three and one double.
The way Fiji play, Vunivalu is not going to be starved of the ball and he is a joy to watch, with his fantastic combination of speed, power and skill out wide.
Five-eighth: Gareth Widdop (England)
The classiest player the Poms have got. Came up with the assist for their only try in an 18-4 loss to Australia that opened the tournament and was influential again in their win over Lebanon. Displayed his versatility by switching to fullback, where England have injury problems, against France.
Widdop has run for 365 metres and scored one try. He also has one line-break, three line-break assists and three try assists.
Halfback: Watson Boas (Papua New Guinea)
Sure, it’s a selection out of left field, but the Kumuls have gone through the pool stage unbeaten, scoring 128 points at an average of 42.6 per game, and Boas has been a driving force with his two tries, two try assists, three line-breaks and three line-break assists.
While there are obviously much bigger names running around for the heavyweight teams in this competition, none of them have dominated.
Prop: David Klemmer (Australia)
The big fellow has been typically hard to bring to a halt in his three games – two as a starter and the other from the bench. He has run for 440 metres and nearly half of those (202) are post-contact metres.
The Aussies have a formula based on starting with the power that Klemmer and his front-row partner, Aaron Woods, produce up front and it’s working well.
Hooker: Cameron Smith (Australia, captain)
There are several other players performing well in the dummy-half role, but the evergreen Dally M Player of the Year still holds sway with his skill, big-match know-how, excellent decision-making and tremendous consistency.
No matter how old he gets, he continues to put the defence in two minds and backs up that wizardry with a big commitment in defence and a great kicking game.
Prop: Sio Siua Taukeiaho (Tonga)
It would have been easy to just throw Woods in as the other prop, alongside Klemmer, but this bloke deserves a big pat on the back for his efforts in a powerhouse Tongan pack.
Across three games he has run for 558 metres, including 233 post-contact. He delivered 161 metres from 17 runs in his 50 minutes when Tonga beat the Kiwis in the most eagerly-anticipated match of the tournament.
Second-row: Boyd Cordner (Australia)
Whether it’s for Sydney Roosters, NSW or Australia, Cordner is consistently among the hardest-working and most effective forwards in the game. He’s got a way of impacting with defenders that gets him over the advantage line more often than not and ready for a quick play-the-ball.
Across his two games he has posted 292 metres, breaking the line twice, and come up with 35 tackles.
Second-row: Manu Ma’u (Tonga)
I love the way Manu goes about his business. If you didn’t see him coming he would chop you in half. Even when you can brace for the hit, it has still got to hurt.
He’s a mainstay for Parramatta and is providing all of that toughness for a Tongan side that is picking up more fans every time it plays. Tonga can rely on him to play the full 80 minutes if necessary, which he did against the Kiwis.
Lock: Jason Taumalolo (Tonga)
You would be a fool if you left him out, wouldn’t you? He’s the most destructive player in the NRL and has been similarly powerful at the World Cup.
Tonga base their game around what players like Taumalolo are capable of doing and he hasn’t let them down, registering 540 metres (237 post-contact) and taking advantage of the inability of defenders to wrap him up by producing six offloads as well.
He’s like a block of flats on wheels.
While I haven’t selected a bench for this exercise, it’s worth mentioning some of the other players who are lighting up the tournament.
Well done to Fiji centre Taane Milne, Tonga five-eighth Tuimoala Lolohea and Papua New Guinea fullback David Mead for the major contributions they have made.
Scotland prop Luke Douglas and France fullback Mark Kheirallah were among many other players who have battled hard against considerable odds for the so-called ‘minnow’ teams.
The world’s best are here! Don’t miss your chance to witness history at the 2017 RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD CUP. Buy your tickets here.