Joseph Manu playing rugby ahead of the rugby league world cup

Men’s Rugby League World Cup: Seven players to watch

The 16th staging of the men’s Rugby League World Cup kicks off this Saturday, as hosts England take on Samoa in Newcastle.

The Rugby League World Cup 2021, delayed a year by the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent withdrawals of Australia and New Zealand, will take place until 19 November, with the final played at Old Trafford.

The 61-game tournament will see more teams than ever compete, with four groups of four nations competing.

The opening fixture between hosts England and Samoa should give a flavour of the running rugby and immense physicality coming across the next six weeks.

So here are some of the talents to look out for during the tournament.

Jack Welsby โ€“ England

Wigan-born 21-year-old Jack Welsby is one of the most exciting rugby league prospects on the planet.

Debuting aged 17 for St Helens, Welsby has already won one Challenge Cup and three Super League titles, a record almost unheard of for a player about to enter their fifth professional season.

The 2022 Super League Young Player of the Year will seek to consistently inject himself into Englandโ€™s attacking line, attract defenders and utilise his elite ball-playing abilities at the cusp of the defensive line.

England fans will be hoping their star fullback can recreate his heroics of the 2020 Super League grand final where he scored in the dying seconds to win St Helens the title.

Jeremiah Nanai โ€“ Australia

Continuing the theme of young superstars, 19-year-old Jeremiah Nanai took the National Rugby League (NRL) by storm this year in his first full season in the top flight.

The North Queensland Cowboy made his state of origin debut for Queensland, picked up the prestigious Dally M rookie of the year award and was named second-rower of the year in the NRL.

Nanai is one of seven debutants named in Australiaโ€™s starting line-up for their opener against Fiji, as the tournament favourites seek to retain their title.

Scoring 18 times for the Cowboys this season, the most of any forward in the NRL, Nanai possesses a unique ability to cross the whitewash and this try-scoring prowess poses a major threat for the Aussies.

Api Koroisau โ€“ Fiji

Fresh off an NRL Grand Final victory with the Penrith Panthers, Api Koroisau is the marquee player in a Fiji squad that many have labelled the ‘dark horses’ for this World Cup.

Having represented Fiji in the two previous World Cup campaigns, Koroisau provides the youthful Fijian squad with a wealth of experience.

Watch for the 29-year-old three-time NRL champion to display his world-class running skills and put opposing defences on the backfoot so Fiji can unleash their big ball carriers.  

Joseph Suaaliโ€™i โ€“ Samoa

Australian-born winger Joseph Suaali’i pledged his allegiance to Samoa last month, joining Matt Parishโ€™s star-studded squad.

The Sydney Roosters flyer was the first player to make their NRL debut before the age of 18 since Jason Taumalolo in 2010, a testament to the level of raw talent he possesses.

The six foot five winger provides a sizable threat under the attacking high ball and paired with his innate ability to find the try line, Suaali’i is a big reason why Samoa have high hopes of World Cup success.

Joseph Manu โ€“ New Zealand

The two-time NRL Grand Final winner is coming into the World Cup off the back of the best season of his career and will be the focal point for a highly touted New Zealand side.

Scoring 11 tries for the Roosters and recording the second most tackle breaks in the NRL this season, the 26-year-old powerhouse proved once again why heโ€™s one of the top players in rugby league.

Manu will be given even more chances with ball in hand as head coach Michael Maguire moves him from his usual centre position to play fullback for New Zealand’s campaign.

Arthur Mourgue โ€“ France

England captain Sam Tomkins described the Catalans Dragons utility back as: โ€œThe most exciting French player for the last ten years.โ€

The 23-year-old can play at halfback, fullback or in the centres, no doubt that versatility will be utilised throughout the World Cup.

The French starlet boasts dazzling footwork and elite playmaking abilities, heโ€™ll be a key part in Franceโ€™s attempt to cause an upset over England or Samoa in Group A to get through to the coveted knockout stages.

Edene Gebbie โ€“ Papua New Guinea

The Papua New Guinea winger will be largely unknown by most rugby league fans, but that will likely change by the end of this World Cup.

The 27-year-old signed for the semi-professional team Townsville Blackhawks at the end of 2021 having previously experienced a taste of NRL systems with Wests Tigers and the South Sydney Rabbitohs.

Off the back of his shining form in the Queensland’s Hostplus Cup, the speedster showcased his silky running and try-scoring abilities on the international stage for Papua New Guinea three weeks ago.

For more of our Rugby League World Cup content click here.

Feature image credit: Naparazzi via Flickr under CC BY-SA 2.0

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