10 Reasons to Watch the Rugby League World Cup
Rugby league's biggest sporting event of 2013 starts this weekend, and it's being played out largely on British shores. The Rugby League World Cup promises to be a superb spectacle, with big hits, high quality skill and some of the best players in the world showcasing their skills on the biggest stage of all.
With England's Group A clash against bitter rivals Australia getting the tournament underway in Cardiff, there are many reasons to tune in and watch some of the finest rugby seen on either side of the code divide.
Here, Bleacher Report takes a look at the 10 of the best reasons to make sure you get your fix of World Cup action—be it players, crunch games or just magnificent stories behind the tournament.
Sonny Bill Williams
He's the best player in either code of rugby, and Sonny Bill Williams is one of the major attractions of the Rugby League World Cup in 2013.
He finished the season in real style with club side Sydney Roosters, picking up the NRL Premiership in his first season back in the 13-man code.
Many rugby league fans feared SBW was about to switch codes again at the end of the season, meaning he would miss out on a World Cup appearance with his native New Zealand. That was intensified when he was left out of the original Kiwis squad and said via his Twitter account he was taking a break.
He was later named in a revised squad, meaning UK fans will finally get a chance to see the superstar take to the field in a big tournament.
I, for one, can't wait to see him in action.
A Hungry Australian Side
It's unusual to be heading into a Rugby League World Cup without Australia being referred to as the defending champions.
For the first time since 1975, they are not the team currently in possession of the famous trophy. It is their nearest rivals New Zealand who won the previous staging of the event, beating the Kangaroos in the 2008 final.
That means for five years, Australian rugby league has been a wounded animal. And everyone should beware a wounded Australia.
They are the favourites for the tournament—and rightly so.
They possess the most skillful squad as a whole and are filled with big-name players, including a large contingent of Queensland's all-conquering State of Origin side, who have won seven series in a row against New South Wales.
Rugby league fans need no reminding of how dangerous Australia are. They very much have success in their sights as they look to finally regain a trophy they will consider their own.
The Game Is Growing
Rugby league is perennially considered a game played in specific areas and left awfully underplayed in other parts of the world.
Take the domestic game. It is traditionally considered a game only played by teams in the north of England. And the same statement can also be said of the international game.
For years, it has been all about England, Australia and New Zealand, plus a few others that have always propped the game up. This tournament, however, boasts two debuting nations.
The USA are fresh-faced babies in terms of rugby league. However, they have called up a number of experienced players with American heritage to try and boost the game in the States.
Then there is Italy.
Little old Italy, whose rugby league experience is next to nothing. They too have called upon senior heads with Italian heritage to try and help them make a splash. And in their final warm-up game before the tournament begins, they caused a huge upset by beating England.
That is no small feat. For a nation like Italy it is the kind of thing that can launch the game into the big time. With Roosters captain Anthony Minichiello leading the nation into their debut tournament, things look bright for the men in blue.
Where Sonny Bill Williams is New Zealand's leading light, England's brightest star is without doubt Sam Tomkins.
Like Williams, Tomkins has flirted with rugby union in the past, too. A fleeting appearance for the Barbarians sparked fears amongst those within league that Tomkins would head to union after leaving Wigan.
Well, Tomkins is officially no longer a Wigan player, but instead of crossing codes, he is heading to the NRL with the New Zealand Warriors. He's also the most expensive player in history after the Warriors paid a record fee to take Tomkins to the other side of the world.
If England are to potentially challenge for the trophy that has eluded them for so long, Tomkins is instrumental. From full-back, he provides blistering pace, superb ball-handling skills and a magnificent try-scoring ratio.
Tomkins will light up the World Cup.
Pure Sporting Adrenaline
Rugby league is beyond physical. It is unparallelled toughness, personified by the men who play the game.
If you're familiar with the game, you will not need any reminding of that. If you're not familiar with it, watching the video on this page may well surprise you.
This is not a sport where the players are accustomed to going to ground too easily. It is full contact, with some pretty shocking injury stories.
In the Super League Grand Final of 2012, Warrington Wolves forward Paul Wood was hit with a serious tackle early on. I won't quite give away what the extent of the injury was, but the attached link will. He played the full game with the injury, underlining just how tough rugby league is.
Expect brute force, sheer power and superb sporting drama.
Danny Brough vs. England
If England and Scotland's paths meet at any point throughout the tournament, an interesting subplot will develop.
In the British game, the players vote for whom they believe has been the most influential throughout the competition over the course of the year. That honour is called the "Man of Steel," and this year it was won by Huddersfield's Danny Brough.
Huddersfield finished top of the table, and Brough was a worthy winner of the award. Born and raised in England, many fancied him to be a sure selection for the English in the tournament. Brough, however, will play for Scotland.
There has been much debate across the game in England as to whether the half-back should be playing for Scotland. Many feel England have missed a trick in not convincing him to play.
Whatever the case, Scotland's case in the tournament has been strengthened with Danny Brough in their side.
Australia's charge toward a potential seventh World Cup crown is spearheaded by a man many consider to be one of the best in the world.
Cameron Smith is a man who is used to winning trophies. He has done so with the Kangaroos before. He has done so with club side Melbourne Storm. He also has done it many times for his state, Queensland.
Lifting the World Cup on British shores would represent yet another success story for the influential hooker.
He has all the experience provided to ensure Australia's quest goes as smoothly as possible. He also has all the skill to make sure they have every chance of beating the rest to make sure the trophy once again returns to Australia.
Big Games, Big Grounds
The tournament gets underway in grand fashion on Saturday, when England face Australia and Wales take on Italy at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
It is just one of a number of huge grounds that will play host to this magnificent tournament.
Both semi-finals will take place in another big double-header at Wembley Stadium, before the final heads to Manchester and the ever-inspiring Old Trafford.
Old Trafford has played host to the Super League Grand Final for a number of years and will now add the World Cup final to its list of big games hosted across the years.
With the lights on, crowds looking like being big, it is set to be a huge tournament.
No story has perhaps grabbed the headlines ahead of the tournament as much as the Burgess brothers.
Three of them will turn out for England in the World Cup. They all play for the same club side, Australia's South Sydney Rabbitohs. Twins Thomas and George are powerhouses who are raw yet have big-game presence already.
Then there is Sam.
Sam is already regarded as one of the best players in the world and is another key part to England's chances of success. Having all come from the same side originally—England's Bradford Bulls—they now reside together in the sunshine of Sydney.
It's a superb story, only saddened by the fact that their other brother Luke—another Rabbitohs player—failed to make the squad.
Rabbitohs owner Russell Crowe will be gleaming with pride when three of his English superstars wear the national shirt together, as will the majority of the rugby league-loving nation.
England CAN Win the World Cup
A World Cup always captures the imagination in England. A World Cup on British shores, however, will surely capture the imagination to a very high degree.
As well as that, England have the potential to be the side lifting the trophy come the final on November 30. Since the previous tournament in 2008, a number of English players have gone to Australia to ply their trade and become much better players in the process.
That includes the previously mentioned Burgess brothers. As well as that, England captain Kevin Sinfield is a hugely influential man in a side filled with potential and talent all across the field.
Saturday's huge shock defeat against Italy was indeed a worry. It shouldn't, however, be viewed as a setback. More a timely reminder that England have to be on their game at all times.
If England do lift the World Cup, then rugby league may finally shake that tag of being a game played just in the north of the country.