World Cup team of the tournament with a twist
THE best part of the Rugby League World Cup is the fringes and the 2017 World Cup is the tournament where the fringes came into the spotlight.
Tonga, Fiji and Papua New Guinea put Tier 2 nations on the map in a way they hadn't been before, so to celebrate that we're putting together our team of the tournament.
There is only one rule - no Tier 1 players allowed.
I don't care if you score seven tries in the final Valentine Holmes, you aren't getting a run here.
It doesn't matter if James Graham has once again struck a masterful balance between hard-nosed running and deft passing, he is not permitted entry.
Nelson Asofa-Solomona might have destroyed opposition defenders like he's Godzilla and they were the hapless Tokyo skyline, but he will find no love here.
This is a team of rugby league World Cup outlaws, held together by a mutual appreciation of cultural challenges and a hell of a lot of Lebanese drumming, as well as a deep devotion to King George Tupou VI of Tonga.
1. David Mead (Papua New Guinea)
The King of Port Moresby has been a standout for the Kumuls for several years and was excellent from the back, getting the tournament off to a brilliant start with three tries in the opening match against Wales. He earned man of the match honours that day and played a large part in a historic tournament for PNG, which was an announcement of a new era for the country that loves rugby league the most. He was strong against Ireland and the USA but was knocked out a minute into the quarter-final loss against England - a bitter end to be sure, but one that couldn't dampen an excellent tournament for the Brisbane utility.
2. David Fusitu'a (Tonga)
Fusitu'a was overlooked for Manu Vatuvei in the first match of the tournament but returned on the right wing for Tonga soon thereafter and never looked back. Ever since he came back into the side he's been red hot, scoring three tries in the historic win over New Zealand as well as scoring two more and setting up another in the quarter-final against Lebanon. One of the best finishers in the game, Fusitu'a has thrived with the consistent service he's received from his inside men and stamped himself as one of the top tryscorers in the sport.
3. Michael Jennings (Tonga)
He just scores tries. Jennings has a rare gift for being in the right place at the right time and got off to a flyer after scoring five tries in Tonga's first two matches. The Parramatta centre missed the win over New Zealand through injury but enjoyed a fine return to form in his second World Cup for the Mate Ma'a. Solid as a rock in defence on the left edge, Jennings reforged his combination with former Roosters teammate Daniel Tupou and provided the excitable Tongan side with a real strike weapon out wide. Although he didn't get on the scoresheet against England for much of the match he was Tonga's most dangerous player.
4. Taane Milne (Fiji)
A bullocking, offloading centre, Milne was a wrecking machine on the right edge for Fiji. Not only did Milne cross for four tries of his own, he was provider for five more and shapes as a shrewd purchase for the Wests Tigers next season. The former Dragon struck up an instant combination with Suliasi Vunivalu and just for good measure he was the man who knocked over the winning penalty against New Zealand. It's a shame that he saved his worst match for last, but a difficult game against Australia does not wash out what came before.
5. Suliasi Vunivalu (Fiji)
The greatest tryscorer in the world got right down to business in his first World Cup, running in nine tries to top the scoring lists for the tournament (non-Valentine Holmes division). Against the battling Italians, Americans and Welsh, Vunivalu was simply unstoppable, running roughshod over his opposition and scoring tries with a seemingly absurd ease.
Three tries in eight minutes against Italy was his most dynamic performance of the tournament and a mark of why he's become one of the top tryscorers in the NRL. As with Milne, his tournament ended on a down note when his opposite number scored six tries in the semi-final, which is a wild sentence to write, but he deserves his place.
6. Mitchell Moses (Lebanon)
Moses was Lebanon's most dangerous player in every game they played and it was his late heroics that won the day against France - a field goal and superb individual try secured the Cedars' first World Cup win as well as passage to the quarter-finals and automatic qualification for the 2021 World Cup.
He was also the most dangerous player on the field against Tonga, playing a hand in several tries and nearly helping Lebanon to what would have been a famous upset.
It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if this tournament turned out to be the making of Mitchell Moses.
7. Liam Finn (Ireland)
In his third World Cup, Irish skipper Finn showcased the value of a cool head and a good kicking game. Despite celebrating his 34th birthday midway through the tournament Finn had his best showing yet for the Wolfhounds - he struck a fine combination with slick fullback Scott Grix and helped pilot Ireland to their upset win over Italy and their domination of Wales.
There were few expectations attached to the Irish for this tournament but they were stellar, and can be considered extremely unfortunate to not have played in the knockout stage.
If this was the finale for Ireland's most-capped player it was certainly a fitting one, but hopefully the strong Irish performance will lead to more matches in green for Finn.
8. Alex Twal (Lebanon)
The young Tigers forward was Lebanon's best forward, showing an incredible workrate at both prop and second row. Twal averaged 16 runs for 124 metres in his four matches, as well as making 36 tackles per game.
Tireless in the middle, Twal is one of the top up and coming front-rowers in the NRL and did his reputation no harm at all with his performances, especially against England and Australia.
9. Michael McIlorum (Ireland)
The Wigan man returned to the Irish set-up for the first time in nine years, and McIlorum was close to Ireland's best in their three matches. A wily, cunning veteran, McIlorum's nous and cleverness around the ruck gave Ireland an attacking edge few of their opponents could match. His displays were made all the more impressive given the injury troubles that have plagued the former England representative over the last two years.
An honourable mention must go to Tongan rake Siliva Havili, who improved out of sight in each match and emerged as a key player in the knockout stages.
10. Sio Siua Taukeiaho (Tonga)
A goalkicking prop was always a short-priced favourite to make it into this man's team of the tournament but Taukeiaho achieved just as much away from the tee. The Roosters forward averaged 172 run metres per match and was simply enormous in the wins over Samoa and New Zealand.
Light on his feet and powerful enough to break anyone's attempted tackle, Taukeiaho is as close a mimic of Jason Taumalolo as you'll find and his absence against Lebanon was a huge part of Tonga's overall flatness in their narrow quarter-final win.
11. Viliame Kikau (Fiji)
Penrith's Kikau is a rare athlete, which made him almost impossible to contain in the Fijian's three pool matches.
Quick, strong and blessed with excellent footwork, Kikau formed a deadly left edge along with Akuila Uate and Henry Raiwalui but as rampaging as he was, it was his performance against New Zealand that was most impressive.
Kikau is yet to make his mark in the NRL but if his display against the Kiwis was anything to go by he has it within him to be a consistent threat for any team in the league. He backed it up with another good game against Australia, albeit with fewer opportunities.
12. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook (Ireland)
Ireland's strength was their forward pack, a group of hard-nosed Super League veterans who weren't here to muck around on the field, and nobody typified that more than McCarthy-Scarsbrook.
The St Helens veteran was a powerhouse on the left edge, winding back the clock with a series of barnstorming displays that helped drive the Irish to their best World Cup since 2008.
There wasn't a whole lot of expectation surrounding Ireland's chances heading into the tournament but on the back of players like McCarthy-Scarsbrook they earned plenty of respect.
A special mention must go to PNG backrower Rhyse Martin, who showed plenty of pace and punch on the Kumuls right edge. An NRL debut with Canterbury should not be out of the question for the skilful backrower.
13. Jason Taumalolo (Tonga)
What else is there to say? Jason Taumalolo is the best running forward in the world and has been for some time. His decision to turn his back on New Zealand and play for Tonga has changed international rugby league forever.
He could retire tomorrow and live forever as a legend. At 24 he is surely too young to have truly peaked, but how can he possibly get any better?
In the semi-final against England the Poms did a great job at slowing him down but the big Cowboy still put his stamp on the game, setting up a breathtaking try to Tui Lolohea.
There is no limit to what he can achieve in this sport.
14. Ashton Sims (Fiji)
In his third World Cup, Sims had some of his best games for the Bati yet. With both his brothers, plus Kane Evans and Daniel Saifiti all ruled out due to injury, Sims has taken it upon himself to lead the way up the middle and saved his best performance for the biggest game.
Against New Zealand Sims was vocal, inspirational and industrious, playing one of the finest games of his long career.
If Sims, a true legend of Fijian rugby league, never plays for the Bati again he can retire knowing he made a truly massive contribution to the cause.
15. Tevita Pangai Junior (Tonga)
The young Broncos forwards just steals this bench spot ahead of fellow Tongan interchange weapon Ben Murdoch-Masila.
After missing out on Tonga's first two matches, Pangai Junior was a late inclusion against New Zealand and immediately made his mark.
In contrast to the more up-and-down style of starting middle forwards Jason Taumalolo and Sio Suia Taukeiaho, Pangai Junior is a gifted offloaded and his second phase play helped spark the Tongans in all three of his Test matches.
His best game was his debut against New Zealand but he played a vital role in all three matches he featured in and helped get the comeback against England under way with a try.
16. Ase Boas (Papua New Guinea)
There were significant expectations surrounding Boas following his stellar year in the Queensland Cup, where he picked up player of the year honours and won man of the match in the grand final. Partnering his brother Watson in the halves, Boas showed all his quality by emerging as Papua New Guinea's most effective playmaker, accumulating five try assists and producing star turns against Wales and Ireland. Any NRL side looking for a bench utility would do well to take a chance on Boas, who reportedly attracted interest from several clubs.
17. Adam Doueihi (Lebanon)
Young Rabbitohs utility Adam Doueihi is perhaps the unlikeliest World Cup star. He was only pitched into the opening match of the tournament against France after Chris Saab was injured in the warm-up and went on to score a crucial try in the second half. From there, he secured a place at centre and was consistently Lebanon's most dangerous outside back. Douheihi scored a fine try against Tonga and looked to have scored another in the second half only to be denied by a contentious obstruction call. Doueihi may have played himself into an NRL spot next season given South Sydney's struggles with outside backs.
18th man: Garry Lo (Papua New Guinea)
The people's hero. Rugby league icon. Twitter's own. With thighs as thick as two short planks and an insatiable desire to run into people, Lo was one of the breakout stars of the tournament.
With an excellent workrate, the powerful Sheffield Eagles winger won plenty of admirers on the left wing for the Kumuls and was a deserving tryscorer in the quarter-final loss to England. Lo has signed with Castleford Tigers for next season and while he's been loaned back to Sheffield he could be a sensation once he gets a chance in the higher divisions.
19th man: Tuimoala Lolohea (Tonga)
The talk leading in to the tournament was if Tonga's playmakers would have enough nous to capitalise on the murderous forward pack and along with Ata Hingano, Lolohea answered the call.
The Tigers five-eighth is expected to move to fullback next year but acquitted himself well in the halves, scoring tries in each of Tonga's final three matches including a well-taken intercept against New Zealand and a screamer against England.
Long considered a player of the future, Lolohea is fast becoming a player of the present. As with Mitchell Moses, this tournament could be a turning point in Lolohea's career.
Coach: Kristian Woolf (Tonga)
It's one thing to be blessed with a star-studded roster, it's another to make the tough calls, pick the right players, run a good camp and get all the rotations right.
Woolf did a great job with his Tongan side all through the tournament, using his star forwards well and understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each of his players.
He got the best out of Tonga and should be their coach for as long as he wants.