Rugby League World Cup: Golden moments from a thrilling 2021 tournament

Golden moments of thrilling Rugby League World Cup
The winners of the men’s, women’s and wheelchair events celebrated together on the final day of the tournament at Old Trafford

After 61 matches over 35 days across three competitions, the 2021 Rugby League World Cup is in the history books.

It was an event packed with memorable moments and incredible individuals. How about a tournament recap?

Fireworks on opening day

This World Cup was initially scheduled for autumn 2021 but was pushed back a year after Australia and New Zealand pulled out citing “player welfare and safety concerns” around the coronavirus pandemic.

Twelve months – and a short delay to the opening ceremony – later, it kicked off at Newcastle’s St James’ Park, where the tournament hosts thrashed Samoa 60-6.

Jack Welsby had the honor of scoring the first try of the tournament, and the performance had former England captain Jamie Peacock purring.

He told BBC Sport: “That’s as good as it gets, and lays down a marker.”

Samoa would get their revenge on England, but more on that to come.

Flying Foxx on the wing

Defending champions Australia were also in action on the opening day, beating Fiji 42-8 with the aid of a stunning solo try from Josh Addo-Carr.

Addo-Carr – nicknamed ‘The Foxx’ – was one of the players of the World Cup, equaling Valentine Holmes’ record of 12 tries in one tournament.

Former New Zealand international Robbie Hunter-Paul said: “He just exudes, ‘I’m having fun.’

“It’s why we turn up. We want to be entertained and he’s box office.”

Addo-Carr said he had “hit rock bottom” almost a decade ago; this autumn he was “loving” life.

Debut delight

Across the tournament, 32 sides took part – with four making their debuts.

Only one – the USA’s wheelchair side – notched a win, but all at least had a try to celebrate.

Brazil women were among those to make history – facing England in just their third international match, which ended in a 72-4 defeat.

Greece’s incredible journey took them to the highest level of the game, just months after a ban on playing matches on home soil ended.

And after opening their campaign with a 48-2 defeat by Ireland, Jamaica men did at least cross the whitewash in their 68-6 loss to New Zealand.

Elsewhere, England, Wales, Australia and New Zealand competed in the inaugural PDRL World Cup.

England beat New Zealand in the final, with Wales seeing off an Australia team that contained comedian Adam Hills to take bronze.

Wheelchair rugby league takes off

The Rugby League Wheelchair World Cup has been around since 2008, but the 2021 edition was its biggest yet.

Crowds of more than 3,000 watched the pool games at the Copper Box Arena in London, and those numbers were built on for a pulsating final.

Live on BBC Two, England captain Tom Halliwell’s late try in front 4,526 fans – a record crowd for the sport – secured a 28-24 win over France.

With unprecedented media interest, the sport was trending on social media and players such as Golden Boot winner Seb Bechara and star player Jack Brown became household names.

“Wheelchair rugby league is going to explode, so get down to your nearest club,” said England head coach Tom Coyd after the final.

“Get in a chair – disabled, non-disabled, male, female – just come down, play this game, and this could be you in a few years.”

Jillaroos make it three in a row

Australia’s women underlined their dominance of the global game by winning all five of their matches, scoring 312 points and conceding just 12.

They thrashed France 92-0 in the pool stage – beating their own record for the biggest win in a women’s World Cup match, and in the final they swept aside three-time winners New Zealand 54-4.

“The girls are amazing. That was a ripping good effort and I’m really happy,” said coach Brad Donald.

“Part of our secret is we actually really care about our players. We have full trust in them and we know that any of our 17 players could have taken to the field and won us the tournament.”

Samoa stun hosts but Australia still rule

The semi-finals of the men’s tournament were matches of the highest quality.

First, holders Australia sneaked past New Zealand in a breathtaking contest Australia coach Mal Meninga called “one of the best Test matches I have been involved in”.

Meninga’s men won 16-14 to reach their 15th consecutive final.

There was huge drama, too, at the Emirates Stadium as Samoa got their revenge on England thanks to Stephen Crichton’s golden-point winner.

That meant they became the first side other than Australia, New Zealand and England/Great Britain to reach the final of the tournament in the past 50 years.

They were no match for the Kangaroos in the final though.

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