21 Oct 2022
Rugby League World Cup Team of Round 1
Check out our selection of the standout performers from the opening games
By Josh Graham
There were plenty of thrills and spills in the opening round of the men’s Rugby League World Cup.
Defending champions Australia and hosts England made strong starts on the opening day with emphatic victories over Fiji and Samoa respectively.
Italy impressed in their win over Scotland while New Zealand survived a scare to get past Lebanon after Ireland had seen off Jamaica in the Reggae Warriors’ debut on the big stage.
France saw off the competition’s other new boys Greece before Tonga beat Papua New Guinea and Cook Islands overcame Wales to bring the opening set of fixtures to a close.
Below is the team of the round as selected by a panel of experts, with eight nations represented.
Full-back – Joey Manu (New Zealand)
New Zealand full-back Joey Manu stole the show with a scintillating display in the Kiwis’ 34-12 victory over Lebanon in Warrington.
Michael Maguire’s side were given a stern test by the Cedars but Manu’s magic proved the difference, the Sydney Rooster scoring a superb solo effort, leaving a trail of Lebanese defenders in his wake.
Manu had a hand in every single New Zealand try and seized his chance to shine at the back - his NRL career has largely been spent as a centre due to the presence of Australia captain James Tedesco.
The 26-year-old was one of just three players to be selected by everyone of our panellists in this week's team.
Right wing - Dom Young (England)
England's Dom Young admitted he couldn't have dreamed of making a better start to international rugby as his first-half try double helped the hosts on their way to a 60-6 win over Samoa on the opening day.
Young struck up an immediate understanding with St Helens half-back Jack Welsby who laid on two assists for the 6ft 7in Newcastle Knights flyer.
Young's first was a sensational long-distance effort before he dived in at the corner to claim his second in front of a bumper crowd at St James' Park.
Right centre – Kallum Watkins (England)
England’s right edge was electric against Samoa in the opener at St James’ Park.
Jack Welsby was pulling the strings with the superb Kallum Watkins and Dom Young outside him and the trio played a key role in England getting off to a fast start, taking an 18-6 lead into half-time before finishing as 60-6 winners.
Kallum Watkins dances through Samoa's defence to score England's fourth of the afternoon!#RLWC2021 | @BBCSport | @England_RL | #ENGSAM pic.twitter.com/UR9j2XXdlg
— Rugby League World Cup 2021 (@RLWC2021) October 15, 2022
Watkins has starred in the back row for Salford of late but his assured display in the centre explains why Shaun Wane still sees him predominantly as a back.
Left centre – Moses Suli (Tonga)
Moses Suli was a solid presence for Tonga in the centre, making a lovely break to feed youngster Isaiya Katoa for his try which helped establish an 18-6 lead.
Isaiya Katoa goes over for Tonga's third consecutive try to put them ahead. #RLWC2021 | @BBCSport | #Tonga | #TONPNG pic.twitter.com/DP8Q2OPeVq
— Rugby League World Cup 2021 (@RLWC2021) October 18, 2022
Papua New Guinea clawed their way back into the contest, but Tonga struck just a few minutes from the death as Suli and his teammates made a winning start to life in Group D.
Left wing – Josh Addo-Carr (Australia)
Josh Addo-Carr channelled his State of Origin omission into some sterling displays in the NRL and the Foxx has brought his flying form into the World Cup.
The Canterbury Bulldogs speedster has been lauded as the fastest man in the game and scored a rip-snorter after running in from 90 metres having been set away by Latrell Mitchell, who shifted it wide early in the tackle count.
The fox is on fire
Josh Addo-Carr shows a clean set of heels!#RLWC2021 | @BBCSport | @Kangaroos | #AUSFIJ pic.twitter.com/IsSvZKU3ZF
— Rugby League World Cup 2021 (@RLWC2021) October 15, 2022
Addo-Carr followed that long distance special by touching down Harry Grant’s perfectly weighted grubber to crown a top performance in the opening win over Fiji for the Kangaroos.
Stand-off – Luke Keary (Ireland)
Luke Keary’s decision to represent his Irish heritage made people sit up and take notice with the Sydney Rooster’s quality in the halves a massive asset to any side.
Sure enough, his Wolfhounds debut went to plan with Keary showing his class as he pulled the strings to help Ireland to a 48-2 win over debutants Jamaica at Headingley.
Keary was one of just three players to be unanimously selected by our panel of experts.
Scrum-half – George Williams (England)
Fresh from the honour of leading England out in their 50-0 warm-up win over Fiji, George Williams was a force to be reckoned with in the No.7 jersey against Samoa at St James’ Park.
It has been a difficult year for the Warrington Wolves half-back with his club side struggling and he failed to hit the heights he expects of himself on the pitch in his first full season back in Super League since returning from the NRL.
However, he found his form of old – barking orders and marching England around the park, showing off his range of crisp passing, kicking well and even scoring a try of his own.
The judging panel had a tough call splitting Williams and Papua New Guinea playmaker Lachlan Lam with the Leigh man putting in a great showing in defeat to Tonga.
Prop – James Fisher-Harris (New Zealand)
Fresh from winning the NRL with the Penrith Panthers, prop James Fisher-Harris attacked his opening World Cup assignment with the wholehearted approach that has seen him become known as Ivan Cleary's enforcer.
Coach Michael Maguire admitted Fisher-Harris was feeling the pace at the start of the game but he showed his resolve to put in a tremendous 61-minute stint in the middle against a game Lebanon opposition.
Fisher-Harris racked up 90 run metres and his strength in the tackle earned him 30 post-contact metres and a place in this side.
Hooker – Edwin Ipape (Papua New Guinea)
Not often does a member of the losing side win the player of the match honours, but Papua New Guinea hooker Edwin Ipape's performance in the defeat to Tonga just could not be overlooked with all of our panellists selecting the 23-year-old.
The Kumuls star won Championship player of the year this season, helping Leigh earn promotion into Super League for 2023 and immediately brought his domestic form into the international arena.
Edwin Ipape - stop it!
Watch #RLWC2021 on @BBCiPlayer and @bbcthree#BBCRL #RLWC2021 pic.twitter.com/Py9iyEsIsy
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) October 18, 2022
Ipape was a constant threat from the ruck, making 11 runs from dummy half and clocking up 192 metres, and proved nearly impossible to stop, breaking four tackles and making as many offloads.
He also provided one of the game's highlights with a storming 35m carry that left several Tongan tacklers on the floor before passing inside for Lachlan Lam's try.
Prop – Liam Byrne (Ireland)
A Challenge Cup winner with Wigan, Liam Byrne is fulfilling multiple childhood dreams in the same year as he represents Ireland at the World Cup.
Byrne helped the Wolfhounds qualify after making his debut in 2018 and came to the party in style during the 48-2 win over Jamaica, winning his sixth cap.
Byrne put in 51 minutes in the middle, catching the eye with 52 post-contact metres and two tackle breaks at Headingley.
Second row – Keaon Koloamatangi (Tonga)
Tonga had been pegged back to 18-18 by Papua New Guinea with three minutes to go in St Helens before match winner Keaon Koloamatangi stepped up.
Having started as a makeshift hooker before moving into his more customary back row slot, Koloamatangi collected captain Siosiua Taukeiaho's perfectly-weighted grubber to dot down and break the Kumuls' hearts.
Koloamatangi broke six tackles and also laid on a try assist in a tremendous all-round display that helped Kristian Woolf's side get off to a fast start in Group D.
Second row – Jeremiah Nanai (Australia)
Teenage sensation Jeremiah Nanai got Australia up and running with their first try and almost got another soon after, just being held up short.
The North Queensland Cowboys second row took the NRL by storm this year in his first full season and proved to those on these shores what all the hype is about with an 80-minute display that saw him make 68 metres and break five tackles.
Loose forward - Benjamin Garcia (France)
France skipper Benjamin Garcia delivered a captain's performance and led Les Tricolores by example in the 34-12 win over plucky debutants Greece.
Player of the match Garcia marshalled the middle expertly and made 208 metres with ball in hand, even getting away three offloads and breaking as many tackles.
Interchange – Harry Grant (Australia)
Undoubtedly making the biggest impact off the bench in Round 1, Kangaroos dummy-half Harry Grant was electric and took the game away from Fiji at Headingley.
The Melbourne Storm hooker scored a try and set up another with a fantastic kick and has been rewarded with a start against Scotland on Friday night.
Mal Meninga had opted to follow the Queensland formula of Ben Hunt to start with Grant to come on but this week roles are reversed against the Bravehearts and the 24-year-old could now hold the key to unleashing the Kangaroos attack as the tournament progresses.
The Fox is through for a second try
The work from Harry Grant in the build-up is next level!
? Watch #RLWC2021 live on @BBCTwo and @BBCiPlayer#BBCRL pic.twitter.com/mfTgQvjE7Z
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) October 15, 2022
Interchange – Nathan Brown (Italy)
Paramatta Eels lock Nathan Brown starred for Italy as they put in one of the displays of the round to beat Scotland 28-4 on Sunday.
Brown’s commanding display in the middle at Kingston Park came exactly two weeks to the day since he was recalled from the wilderness to feature in the Eels’ NRL Grand Final defeat to Penrith Panthers.
The 29-year-old showed all his experience to marshal things for an inexperienced and youthful Italy side, winning player of the match in a team display that gives the Azzurri hope they can shock Fiji at the same venue this weekend to further their hopes of getting out of Group B.
Interchange – Victor Radley (England)
Many had been waiting to see Victor Radley in an England shirt and they were not disappointed as the Sydney Rooster put in a top performance both sides of the ball to win the player of the match against Samoa.
His physical defence and expert link play also saw him step in at acting half at the back end of England's dominant opening day display but coach Shaun Wane believes there is even more to come from his NRL star.
Interchange – Jack Welsby (England)
Half-back Jack Welsby set the World Cup alight with the opening try of the tournament and put Dom Young away for two tries in the first-half.
His head could have dropped after throwing an intercept but the three-time Super League champion with club St Helens showed his class with an influential display throughout.
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