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Who were the big winners at the World Cup?

Australia have locked up their 12th World Cup title in a dominant display against a fast improving Samoan team to bring the 16th RLWC competition to an end, and the 31 games played have thrown up some clear winners and losers. Here’s my take on the big winners at the 2022 Rugby League World Cup.

Josh Addo-Carr

He went away as NSW’s third, fourth or fifth choice winger and went within a NZ sympathy vote of winning the 2022 Golden Boot Award. He scored 12 tries for the tournament and his value to the side was highlighted in the final when he popped up in the middle of the field to put James Tedesco over under the posts for the second try of the match.


Prior to the tournament a lot was said about how weak the Australian squad was, that NZ had a better team on paper, that England would benefit from their home team advantage, and that both Samoa and Tonga stood a great chance of finishing ahead of the Kangaroos. Well, I’m afraid not, as Australia proved once again that they are the best rugby league team in the world. Simple as that.

Thomas Burgess

Whenever Burgess was on the field the English looked like a real, tough Test team, but they fell away badly when he was replaced by the likes of Mike Cooper, Chris Hill or Luke Thompson, who’d all struggle to get a run in the NRL.

Michael Cheika

The Lebanese players have all professed their love for their coach and he got the Cedars playing some really enterprising football. He must be the only man in history to coach both Test rugby league and Test rugby union teams in the same week, and he just might be a contender to coach again in Australia soon, and maybe even pick up a rugby league gig.

(Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images for RLWC)

Nathan Cleary

Everybody except Mal Meninga knew that Nathan Cleary was always going to be Australia’s best halfback option, but Meninga heaped unwanted pressure on the Penrith captain by not only playing Cleary and Daly Cherry-Evans off against each other, but also the bizarre jersey numbering debacle.

Despite the unnecessary internal pressure, Cleary stood up when it really mattered, and it looks like the Australian 7 jersey (or whatever) will be his for some time to come.

Stephen Crichton

Crichton at times looked anonymous when playing for the star-studded Panthers in 2022 but he really stepped up when representing Samoa to put in some near-perfect performances, and mark himself as one of the coolest heads in the game.

Herbie Farnworth

Whenever the ball came Herbie’s way, the English team threatened the line, and he has now firmly established himself as their best outside back. Brisbane will be hoping that he takes his World Cup form into the 2023 season.

Flag manufacturers

There are more Samoan flags flying in Sydney than you can poke a stick at, and you now can’t buy one for love or money. I’m downloading the pattern later today and getting busy making a batch for the next RLWC.

International Rugby League

The RLWC always has its fair share of knockers, largely from online trolls, heritage team critics and others on the lunatic spectrum, but it has proved a great success in 2022, and has done much to advance the case for more and more international fixtures.

Now that the COVID-19 excuse has been shelved, hopefully the IRL can get their act together and put a programme in place that sees regular international games every season, even if it is at the expense of a couple of NRL games now and then.

Jacob Kiraz

Kiraz had a great debut season for Canterbury in 2022 and he showed even more promise in his three games in the No.1 jersey for Lebanon. The Dogs just might be on a winner here.

Tim Lafai

I actually thought it was a wind-up when Lafai was a late inclusion in the Samoan squad but he proved me and every other critic wrong. His form was so good he was almost unrecognisable as the player who ran around aimlessly for the Dragons for five years under coach Paul McGregor.

Moses Leota

Leota has played somewhat in the shadow of James Fisher-Harris at Penrith in the last couple of years but he has showed his true value in this tournament, to be one of the best front rowers in the game, and a real leader for Samoa. Penrith will be keen to hang on to him.

(Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

Jarome Luai

Probably only Latrell Mitchell is a more polarising player than Luai, but like Mitchell, the Samoan five-eighth is a very good player who can take the game away from the opposition in the blink of an eye. Luai had an excellent RLWC and showed that he’s not just an annoying opponent, but a true leader who never gives up.

Joey Manu

While some, including me, believe that Joey Manu was a sympathy pick for the Golden Boot Award, there’s no doubt that he’s now firmly entrenched as not only the Kiwis best player, but one of the best players in the world, and he had an outstanding tournament. How lucky is Roosters’ coach Trent Robinson to have Joey Manu, James Tedesco and Joseph Sua’ali’i in his squad?

Liam Martin

Martin wasn’t in everybody’s team when World Cup selections were being tossed about, but he’s certainly proved himself in this series as Australia’s best second rower, and his dominance on the right edge has made a big contribution to Australia’s success. A real enforcer!

Ronaldo Mulitalo

We all knew that Mulitalo was a talented winger, but he has now established himself as the first outside back chosen by NZ, after Joey Manu of course. What an exciting player. Fortunately, the Sharks have him signed up for the next three years.

Junior Paulo

Paulo has really stepped up as captain of Samoa and much of their success can be attributed to both his leadership and the passion he brings to the role. The World Cup experience should pay dividends for the Eels next season.

Matt Parish

Samoan coach Matt Parish might not be everyone’s cup of tea, and won’t be becoming a White Ribbon ambassador anytime soon, but he certainly knows how to get the best out of the Samoan players. Just 18 months after having 34 current and former players calling for him to be sacked, he did the seemingly impossible, taking his side to a World Cup final after they lost their first-round match 60-6.


What a pleasure it’s been to watch the way the Samoan team has played the game in this series. Here is a team who genuinely play for each other, and their passion and willingness to open the game up were a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately no trophy this time, but they’re only a step away.

Joseph Sua’ali’i

It looks like they got it right when Sua’ali’I was given an exemption to make his first grade debut before turning 18 years of age as he plays with a level of maturity and commitment that make some of his teammates look ordinary.

He still has some defensive issues to address in the fullback role but his running game at the RLWC has been very impressive. It looks like he definitely made the right choice, certainly from a career perspective, in choosing to play with Samoa rather than Australia at this tournament.

James Tedesco

What’s that saying …. “cometh the hour, cometh the man.” The Australian captain looked like he was playing in second gear in the early rounds of the tournament but proved he’s still the best fullback in the game, scoring two tries in a man-of-the-match performance in the RLWC final.


Tonga don’t quite have the star power of the Samoan team, but still went within a penalty goal of making it to the semi-finals. After winning their three pool games convincingly, they went down to their Samoan rivals by just 2 points in the qualifying final. I suspect they’ll be back bigger and better next time.

Sunia Turuva

Probably only Panthers fans had seen this dynamo play prior to the World Cup, but what a revelation he has been to the rest of us. He’s a freakish performer who has now played more international matches for Fiji than first grade games. I wonder where he’ll pop up in the Panthers line-up in 2023?

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