With the World Cup on the horizon, there is an incredible buzz about the upcoming tournament as players from all over the globe travel to England.
The men’s tournament begins this weekend whilst the women’s and wheelchair competitions start later, but just who should we look out for in the men’s World Cup?
Kayal Iro – Cook Islands
The name Iro is synonymous with rugby league and Kayal will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of his father, Kevin, who made a name for himself with Wigan, Leeds and St Helens. Kayal, meanwhile, is just 22 years of age and will be making his tournament debut with the Cook Islands this time around. Having debuted with the Cronulla Sharks in the NRL earlier this year, the outside back has all the skill and talent to make it big in the near future.
Jack Welsby – England
Few players have enjoyed a rise as meteoric as St Helens’ Jack Welsby in recent seasons. Having come through the Merseyside club’s academy, Welsby will forever be famous for making his mark in 2020, becoming an integral part of Kristian Woolf’s side as his last-gasp try won that year’s Grand Final. The utility back, who can play anywhere along the backline as well as at loose forward, has won three Grand Finals and a Challenge Cup with Saints, earning an England call-up following a stellar season in 2022. With the number 6 on his back, it appears as though head coach Shaun Wane will entrust Welsby to strike up a fruitful partnership with Warrington Wolves star George Williams.
Viliame Kikau – Fiji
A name that strikes fear into the hearts of his opponents, Viliame Kikau has forged a reputation as one of the most potent attacking forwards in the world. With two Premiership rings under his belt with the Penrith Panthers, Kikau will now look to be just as destructive with Fiji as he is in the NRL. With an ability to rock an attacker off his feet too, the hulking forward is likely to set the World Cup alight.
Edwin Ipape – Papua New Guinea
If there is one player that has taken a completely different setting by storm in 2022 then it is Edwin Ipape. Signed by the Leigh Centurions to spearhead the club’s promotion drive, hooker Ipape settled in seamlessly at the Leigh Sports Village, quickly becoming one of Adrian Lam’s most important stars. With a devastating eye for a gap around the ruck, Ipape will cause defences at the World Cup all sorts of problems as he looks to take his brilliant club form onto the greatest stage of them all.
Haumole Olakau’atu – Tonga
Despite the Manly Sea Eagles’ dreadful end to the season in 2022, one man continued to stand out through it all – forward Haumole Olakau’atu. Almost as devastating as Viliame Kikau on the left, Olakau’atu operates on the right, throwing himself through an opponent’s line with great effect. If Tonga can get good, early ball to the Manly man then watch him thrive and skittle defenders as Kristian Woolf’s men look to avenge the heartache of 2017 when they went down narrowly to England in a pulsating semi-final.