Rugby League World Cup 2013: Picking the Best Players in the Tournament
The Rugby League World Cup kicked off on Saturday at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff as co-hosts England and Wales suffered defeats to Australia and Italy, respectively.
But there is still plenty more rugby to be played between now and the final on Nov. 30 at Old Trafford.
Here’s a look at the players who will light up your TV screens over the next four weeks.
Sonny Bill Williams
Williams has dominated much of the pre-tournament build-up for numerous reasons.
Firstly, he is as complete an athlete as you’ll find. The New Zealand second-row is built like a tank but is as agile as a dancer.
After winning the Rugby Union World Cup with the Kiwis in 2011, he went on to become his country’s heavyweight boxing champion, and now he will aim to add a rugby league world crown to his resume. If he does so, he will become the first man to win world titles across both rugby disciplines.
Secondly, he has courted controversy throughout his career for hopping between both union and league. He won the NRL with his side, the Sydney Roosters, this year, but it was his first season back in league after enduring a five-year ban for walking out on his former team, according to Stephan Shemilt of BBC Sport.
Williams looked impressive in New Zealand’s 42-24 win over Samoa on Sunday, racking up 126 metres with the ball and putting in 27 tackles without it, per the official website. He had a moment to forget toward the end of the game (see clip), however, but if he can continue to deliver, then the Kiwis will be one of the favourites to retain their crown.
At just 24, Tomkins has enjoyed more success than most players experience in their entire careers. He signed off his Wigan career in scintillating fashion, helping the Warriors to a double dose of glory in both the Super League and the Challenge Cup.
Next season he will ply his trade amongst some of the world’s best players in the NRL for the New Zealand Warriors after the Australian outfit forked out a world-record transfer fee for the English star, per BBC Sport.
But before then there’s the small matter of the World Cup, and Tomkins would love nothing more than to embark on his new career path with the game’s biggest prize to his name.
England lost 28-20 to pre-tournament favourites Australia in their opening game on Saturday, but with Ireland and Fiji still to come, there is plenty of time for Tomkins and Co. to put things right.
Don’t be deceived by his slight stature. Tomkins can take a hit and dish them out as well, despite his diminutive frame, and when he has the ball in his hands, there are few in the world better.
Thurston put in a man-of-the-match display in Australia’s win over England in the tournament’s curtain raiser on Saturday in Cardiff.
Who will win the 2013 Rugby League World Cup?
Despite being widely considered as one of rugby league’s best players, a World Cup title remains elusive for the half-back and some of his fellow Aussie stars.
Thurston, who won the Golden Boot in 2011, which is awarded to rugby league’s best player, has cleaned up in the domestic game. But at 30 years of age, this could represent his last opportunity to get his hands on the World Cup.
After a surprise defeat to rivals New Zealand on their own patch in 2008, Thurston and his teammates will be hoping to put that right in England.
Brough led Huddersfield to their first top-of-the-table finish in 81 years this year, per BBC Sport.
Although the Giants failed in their bid for Super League glory, losing to Wigan in the final, Brough was named Super League’s Man of Steel, which is awarded to the best player each year.
Brough, who was born and raised in England, pledged his allegiance to Scotland after surprisingly being overlooked by England head coach Steve McNamara ahead of the World Cup.
The Huddersfield Giants skipper will look to put the pain of Super League defeat behind him as he leads Scotland into battle over the coming weeks.
As reported by Sky Sports, Brough is hoping to lead Scotland to a quarter-final berth. If they are to go that far, much will depend on the performance of their skipper, who is one of the tournament's in-form players.
Dave Hadfield of the Independent called Smith “the glue” inside the Aussie camp, and the skipper will be vital to the Kangaroos' World Cup hopes.
Smith has been one of Australia’s greatest players in recent memory, and he will be gunning to complete his trophy cabinet with a World Cup title next month. Similarly to Thurston, Smith is 30 years old, and this could be his last realistic chance of leading his team to world domination.
The Melbourne Storm star was voted the world’s best player this year, seeing off compatriots Greg Inglis and Thurston and the much-talked about Kiwi Williams.
Smith was part of the Australian team that lost to New Zealand in the 2008 final, and he, more than most, will be out for revenge.
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