By Finlay Swift
The 2021 Rugby World Cup is finally set to begin this weekend as host nation England kick off their campaign against Samoa at St. James’s Park.
With Covid-19 forcing a one-year delay, the eyes of the rugby league world will shift to England for the next month to witness bruising battles, competitive contests and high-quality skills.
Sixteen nations have their eyes on the ultimate prize but will have to come up with something special to beat reigning champions Australia.
Due to another stellar season which saw the St Helens pick up a fourth Grand final victory in as many years, they will be represented by nine players in the competition spanning across four nations.
Joe Batchelor, Jack Welsby, Tommy Makinson, Matty Lees and Morgan Knowles make up the English contingent with the latter switching his allegiance from Wales.
James Bell will represent Scotland whilst Dan Norman will be with Ireland. Konrad Hurrell and Will Hopoate make up the final two spots playing for Tonga.
Each player brings a unique and impressive skill set to their respective nations and below is a further look into the impact they could have in this World Cup.
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Three players represent Merseyside as Welsby, Makinson and Lees were all born and raised in St. Helens. After winning young player of the year in Super League, the 21-year-old is certainly a player to keep an eye out for.
His versatility combined with his speed and skill is a threat to any defence, Welsby will hope a good World Cup will continue his meteoric rise in the game.
Makinson burst onto the international scene with spectacular performances against New Zealand in the 2018 test series. The Veteran winger will be many people’s vote for top try scorer in the competition and after winning that award in the Super League this season, it would be a brave to bet against him.
Matty Lees is a strong, powerful prop, who like Welsby is a product of the Saints academy.
Batchelor has enjoyed a late rise in the game becoming a staple part of the Saints squad. He is deceptively quick and has a brilliant understanding of the game which has enabled him to become one the best players in Super League. Standing at 6ft 1inches, the second row could be a vital player for England.
Finally, Morgan Knowles makes up the five selected for England. The loose forward swapped Wales for England. The Cumbrian is set to play in his second world cup after appearing for Wales in 2017. Like Lees, his power and tackling ability are what make him stand out.
As one of the favourites to go all the way, England will be relying on these Saints stars to transfer their club form onto the international stage.
Fortunately for Hurrel and Hopoate, the Tonga base camp is loctaed at St. Helen’s providing some home comfort. As both completed their debut season at Saints this year, they will add a cutting edge in attack to a new-look Tonga side.
Hurrel boasts plenty of strength but is also quick on his feet making him a difficult opponent. Hopoate is a silky winger with brilliant technical ability. If played on the same side, this deadly centre-winger combination could see Tonga progress far in the competition and a team most will hope to avoid.
⏳ Time to make history.
61 matches in 3 tournaments across England for the first time, starting at St James' Park and ending at Old Trafford.
Rugby League World Cup 2021 is here.
— Rugby League World Cup 2021 (@RLWC2021) October 14, 2022
Scotland & Ireland
The last two players from the Saints camp are Dan Norman and James Bell. Both suffered stop start campaigns this year, however, will provide much needed experience and skill for both of these teams.
Norman is a prop and if used effectively will provide a strong running game allowing Ireland to get a foothold in the game. He is quick, tall and strong and is a fantastic addition to the Irish squad.
New Zealand born James Bell is part of the Scottish squad this year. Having played in both the NRL in Australia and the Super League he is a huge addition to the team.
Being able to play at both second row and loose forward, the 28-year-olds’ flexibility will be key for any success Scotland have in this World Cup.