13 Oct 2022
Men's Rugby League World Cup: Six players to watch
Which of these stars will have the biggest impact over the next five weeks?
By Josh Graham
The Rugby League World Cup is almost upon us and the stage is set for players to grab the limelight over the next five weeks.
In the men’s tournament, defending champions Australia face Fiji at Headingley on Saturday but first, hosts England get things underway against star-studded Samoa at St James’ Park.
With the world’s No.1 side New Zealand and 2017 semi-finalists Tonga also packed full of quality from both sides of the globe, fans can expect to see the most competitive World Cup ever.
But who will grab the tournament by the scruff of the neck and leave a household name, cement their status in the game or cause people to sit up and take notice?
Here are some of those expected to play a central role...
Dom Young (England)
Were it not for the Covid delay to this tournament, Dom Young would likely have been lining up alongside brother Alex for World Cup debutants Jamaica.
However, the flying 6ft 7in winger has taken the NRL by storm with Newcastle Knights and after an outstanding showing for England against Fiji in the 50-0 warm-up win, Shaun Wane will unleash the talented youngster in Saturday’s opener against Samoa.
Young, 21, made the move down under from Huddersfield Giants ahead of the 2021 NRL season and enjoyed a breakout season with the Knights in 2022, scoring 14 tries in 20 appearances to take his remarkable record to 18 scores in 26 outings.
Weighing in at a shade under 17 stone, Young has all the attributes to be the star turn at this tournament.
Jarome Luai (Samoa)
Half-back Jarome Luai has emerged as one of the stars of the NRL while steering Penrith Panthers to back-to-back Grand Final victories.
The 25-year-old is also a fixture in the New South Wales team and would have been part of Mal Meninga’s Kangaroos side had he not pledged his allegiance to Samoa.
READ MORE: Parish - Samoa 'not favourites' for England opener
Luai was born in Sydney but represented his Samoan family at the 2017 World Cup down under before he had made his NRL debut.
With seven other Samoans from this year’s Grand Final alongside him, Luai has the keys to a side that many are tipping to go all the way.
Mitchell Moses (Lebanon)
Mitchell Moses was overlooked for Australia’s side but made no bones about his pride in leading Lebanon at the World Cup.
Moses will have to shake off the disappointment of losing the NRL Grand Final with Paramatta Eels and the half-back will have a key role to play if Lebanon are to make the quarter-finals as they did in 2017.
The 28-year-old has been instrumental in revitalising the Eels on the domestic stage and having been vice captain down under five years ago is ready to take on the top job in England.
Viliame Kikau (Fiji)
Second rower Viliame Kikau signed off with the Penrith Panthers in style by helping them to a second successive NRL title in the Grand Final win over Paramatta Eels.
The powerful forward is set for pastures new at the Canterbury Bulldogs next season but first is aiming to help three-time semi-finalists Fiji go deep in this year’s tournament.
A superb offloader, Kikau made 45 in 2022 and is a constant threat to the defensive line. He will be looking to add to the eight tries he has scored in 12 appearances for the Bati.
Rhyse Martin (Papua New Guinea)
It is fair to say Rhyse Martin has had a rollercoaster year on and off the pitch.
The goal-kicking back rower lost his father Steve at the start of 2022 and is set to honour his dad’s Papua New Guinea heritage by captaining the side at this tournament.
On the field, Martin saw his Leeds Rhinos side transform their fortunes after the arrival of Rohan Smith at Headingley before ultimately coming unstuck against a supreme St Helens side in the Super League Grand Final.
The 29-year-old is on a record-breaking run of 38 successful kicks off goal and his prolific form off the tee will be a major factor if PNG are to make it into the knockout phase.
READ MORE: Martin sets sights on rewarding passionate PNG fanbase
James Tedesco (Australia)
Given his supremacy in the NRL, it may seem like a boring pick to select Australia full-back James Tedesco.
However, there is simply no getting away from the fact that if the Sydney Roosters No.1 is on song then it will take something special to stop the Kangaroos from defending their title.
READ MORE: Tedesco determined to lead by example
With two World Cups under his belt representing his Italian family heritage, Tedesco has graduated to what many always saw as his destiny as the main man in the Australia set-up under Mal Meninga.
Having honed his captaincy with New South Wales at State of Origin level, the 29-year-old is an experienced leader who will stop at nothing to get his hands on the trophy on November 19.
The Rugby League World Cup promises to be the biggest, best and most inclusive event in the sport’s 127-year history with men’s, women’s and wheelchair teams competing in 61 games across 21 venues throughout England. Tickets are available via rlwc2021.com/tickets