Top 10 Players of the 2017 Rugby League World Cup
The 2017 Rugby League World Cup was arguably the most competitive edition of the tournament since its inception, with so-called second tier nations stealing the show, but Australia maintaining their status as Kings of the rugby league world.
We took a look across the performances of players in all 28 matches to bring you the top 10 players of the 2017 World Cup.
10: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (New Zealand)
4 2017 RLWC games, 8 line breaks, 4 try-assists, 198 average run metres
His team may have been woeful, but ‘RTS’ didn’t budge one bit when it came to his own standards.
Asked to do less work earning yardage early in sets, a role he is so often used in at club level, Tuivasa-Sheck was able to show more of his polished skills in the Kiwi jersey, and was his side’s best and most consistent producer in attack.
The New Zealand Warriors’ skipper was at his best in the week two clash against Scotland, where he had a hand in almost everything good the Kiwis did in the 74-6 win, setting up four tries and breaking the line three times. One of the few men in his team who can hold his head high at the end of a disastrous campaign for New Zealand.
9: David Klemmer (Australia)
6 2017 RLWC games, 18 average tackles, 73 runs
David Klemmer found a whole new level to that which he showed at club and state level in 2017, playing in every one of the Kangaroos’ World Cup matches and establishing himself as their most-dominant middle forward.
Carried for more metres than any other Australian forward, with his work post-contact helping him to average well over 10 metres in yardage each time he carried the ball, while he also clocked more runs than any member of his pack, bar Matt Gillett.
Klemmer’s charges oozed venom and often commanded multiple defenders to bring him down, which saw gaps open up for other members of his team. The 23-year-old showed that despite experiments at lock, he is a world-class prop, whether it’s as a starter or off the interchange.
8: Mitchell Moses (Lebanon)
4 2017 RLWC games, 4 try-assists, 44 runs
Led a team comprising mostly of lower-grade footballers and journeymen to three quality performances and ultimately a quarter-finals berth.
Moses’ elusive running game saw him constantly trouble opposing defensive lines, often creating opportunities for teammates and generating point-scoring chances with a quick play the ball or an offload at the end of the play, while his kicking game was consistent and showed maturity beyond his years.
The bigger the occasion the better Moses seemed to perform, evident by his starring role in the narrow quarter-final loss to Tonga, where he very nearly dragged Lebanon to victory off the back of his energetic attack.
7: Viliame Kikau (Fiji)
5 2017 RLWC games, 3 tries, 4 line breaks, 165 average run metres
Fiji were simply lethal on the edges at the World Cup, and so much of that was down to their powerful wide-running forwards, with Kikau the pick of the bunch across their campaign.
Much of his work can’t be measured by statistics, with Kikau often providing a bruising carry and quick play the ball in the lead-up to line breaks from teammates down his side of the field, while he was deadly when given the chance himself, splitting the line four times and going over for three tries.
Kikau was just about his team’s best player in the upset victory over the Kiwis in the semi-final, troubling with his pre-contact footwork and pure power. One of the big surprises at the World Cup.
6: Valentine Holmes (Australia)
6 2017 RLWC games, 12 tries, 9 line breaks
He only really needed two games to justify his place on this list, with Holmes scoring an incredible 11 tries in just 160 minutes of knockout football against Samoa and Fiji.
Across all six of the Kangaroos’ games, playing as both a winger and fullback, Holmes was exceptional and needed only a sniff of an opportunity to turn something into four points. The 22-year-old’s raw athletic ability means he automatically has an advantage over most who line up opposite him, but it’s also worth recognising his refined craft on the wing.
No player got close to matching Holmes’ ability to produce a dynamic play with ball in hand.
5: Sio Siua Taukeiaho (Tonga)
4 2017 RLWC games, 184 average run metres, 14 goals
While Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita’s decision to switch allegiance to Tonga commanded all of the headlines, Taukeiaho, who also snubbed the Kiwis in favour of playing for coach Kristian Woolf, was every bit their equal when it came to on-field impact.
The Sydney Roosters enforcer saved his best performances for the toughest opponents, taking it to New Zealand in their pool match with close to 300 running metres, and nullifying the impact of their big men in the process.
Taukeiaho’s ability to promote second phase was a constant weapon for Tonga, and the fact that he could ball play at the line, or tuck the Steeden under his arm and go through it, meant opposition defensive lines were always second guessing themselves. It’s also important to note his accurate goal kicking, which proved a key in close matches against Samoa and the Kiwis.
4: Jermaine McGillvary (England)
6 2017 RLWC games, 14 line breaks, 7 tries, 208 average run metres
In a tournament full of star performances from wingers, McGillvary stood out as the premier man in his position thanks not only to his electric attacking plays, but his tireless work right across the field.
The powerful Englishman’s combination with Kallum Watkins was arguably the best edge-defence combination at the tournament, with McGillvary’s composure a feature. But it was his work out of yardage that set him apart from others on the flank, so often breaking the line or finding a quick play the ball to get the set rolling.
He has been a star for Huddersfield in the Super League for years, but the World Cup was McGillvary’s coming of age in an international sense.
3: Jason Taumalolo (Tonga)
5 2017 RLWC games, 13 average metres per carry, 19 average tackles
Tonga already has a King, but if it didn’t Jason Taumalolo would now be a prime candidate after leading the tiny island nation on an historic run to the semi-finals.
While the narrative surrounding Taumalolo’s decision to play for Tonga over the Kiwis was an enduring theme of the World Cup, the real story was on the field where the wrecking ball carried his spectacular NRL form onto the international stage with a series of dominant showings in the middle.
Across five matches the North Queensland Cowboy averaged a touch under 200 metres per game, crucially standing tall in bruising encounters against Samoa, New Zealand and England.
Tonga’s young halves and hookers exceeded most expectations at the tournament, with so much of that thanks to the platform Taumalolo helped to set. His performances were all the more impressive given the huge media and fan attention he carried on his shoulders through the whole campaign.
2: Gareth Widdop (England)
6 2017 RLWC games, 7 try-assists, 110 average run metres
Such is Widdop’s talent on a rugby league field, after being voted the third best player in the entire NRL this year while at five-eighth, he was able to switch to a position he hasn’t played regularly since he was a teenager and finish the World Cup as one of its most influential players.
With improved time and space at the back, Widdop was able to show even more of his playmaking talents, without have to make the 20-plus tackles a game which is typical for halves these days.
In the tense two-point victory over Tonga in the semi-final, Widdop was the difference for England, setting up two tries and scoring the third, in addition to kicking four goals.
1: Billy Slater (Australia)
5 2017 RLWC games, 5 tries, 3 try-assists, 5 line breaks
It had been three and a half years since his last appearance at Test level when Slater ran out against England in the tournament opener, but he very quickly dispelled any thought that he might no longer be up to the job.
The usual traits were all there. Safe as houses at the back, he read most opposition halves like a boring book come last tackle, and on the ball averaged 142 metres run. The 34-year-old chimed into the backline with impeccable timing to score a number of tries through gaping holes, in addition to laying on some nice ones for the men around him. There were also the key one-percenters in Slater’s game, particularly when it came to earning penalties in the ruck, where his experience was priceless.
A number of players were appearing in their third World Cup this time around, but of them only Slater can safely say 2017 was his best yet.