2021 RLWC: Teams to Look Out For

New Zealand’s Brandon Smith Is a Notable Player in the 2021 RLWC in October

The 2021 RLWC finally kicks off a year after originally intended. With England as the hosts, how will home advantage play out? Can the Kiwis carry on their ranking as number 1 in the world? Or can the Kangaroos make good on their tag as favourites? Here we look at the contenders for the global tournament.

The 2021 RLWC: The Notable Teams of This World Cup


Australia comes into the tournament as most peoples’ favourites to win the title and with good reason. Despite a raft of eligible players declaring for other nations or removing themselves from consideration, especially at prop, the Kangaroos will be very confident in their ability. Despite their obvious quality, the Kangaroos have a relatively inexperienced squad with 13 players who will be making their international debut. This may mean they struggle to gel as a team initially. With all their players having experience at NRL and Origin level though, they know what it takes to win at the highest level.

Surprise calls were made with Dally-M winner Nicho Hynes and Clive Churchill medal winner Dylan Edwards both missing out. However, the incumbent halfback Daly Cherry-Evans and Penrith’s superstar captain were never going to miss out. While at fullback Tedesco is the captain and there are several players capable of filling in at the back.

Key player: James Tedesco

Tedesco has captained the Roosters and New South Wales. He was named the players player of the year in the NRL and he is one of the few people guaranteed a starting jersey when it comes to the big knockout games. His ability to gain quick metres around the ruck combined with his high work rate and last-ditch defence make him a teammate’s dream.

New Zealand

The Kiwis have one of the most balanced squads in the RLWC this year. There is quality throughout the squad so, despite Jared Waerea-Hargreaves being suspended for the first few rounds, they have NRL champion Moses Leota able to play instead. New Zealand possesses one of the most fearsome packs led by captain Jesse Bromwich. Furthermore, their depth means that the front-row rotation will likely see no let-up for the opposition with Nelson Asofa-Solomona entering the game.

Behind the scrum, the Kiwis have always had talented backs and this year is no different with Joey Manu and Pita Hiku. The crucial part now though is they have a pair of halves who can control a game. Hughes has been in great form this year but Dylan Brown has taken his play to a new level. His running game from five-eighth will be a big weapon for the Kiwis.

Key player: Brandon Smith

The Kiwis have so many incredible individuals that can provide match-winning moments. Brandon Smith’s (pictured in the main picture above) job will be providing structure, speed and accurate service from the dummy half. The Dally-M 2021 hooker of the year has been stuck playing lock or on the interchange at the club level, this season but will be the starting hooker for his country. A physical player with an excellent running game, his challenge will be to find the balance between running himself and providing for his other spine players.


The hosts will believe they can win their first RLWC with the tournament on home soil. The finalists from 2017 will want to show they have what it takes to go one further. England has five players who recently won the Betfred Super League with St. Helens plus another 10 who were involved in the playoffs and three who made the knockout stages of the NRL. Further NRL experience is included with Thompson (Bulldogs), Young (Knights) and Farnworth (Broncos). In terms of RLWC experience, eight players were involved in 2017 while South Sydney prop Burgess is one of four playing in their third RLWC.

England kicks their tournament off with a tough game against Samoa that could give us and them a very good idea of where this team sits but they should expect to make the knockout stages at the very least.

Key player: Victor Radley

Radley is a player that, if kept under control, can be world-class on both sides of the ball. He is known for big hits in defence and his combative side carries through into attack but is coupled with soft hands that can put others into space he creates. The issue though is keeping Radley on the field. In his last game for the Roosters, he was sin-binned twice and seeing yellow is not uncommon for him. If England can keep Radley on the field, he will a player to build their game around.


Samoa was one of the countries that benefited most from players defecting from Australia. They will also benefit from a large number of their players having played at the club level together. Not only that but these players are used to winning together too. The Penrith Panthers could see five of their backs starting for Samoa in the coming weeks while some of these players have experience playing the State of Origin series with other members of the squad including captain Junior Paulo.

The individual talent that some of these players will bring could see Samoa make a run deep into the knockout stages of the RLWC and it is not just behind the scrum where the talent lies. Up front, Spencer Leniu will probably have to be content with a spot on the bench despite being a recent Grand Final winner. Meanwhile, Martin Taupau is likely to see himself shifted from his favoured position of prop into the 13 jersey.

Key player: Jerome Luai

If this Samoa team is going to have a consistent level of performance then Luai is going to be crucial. He is surrounded by talent but it is on him to bring all of that talent together as a team. He will not have his usual Penrith partner in crime Nathan Cleary next to him, so he is going to need to shoulder more responsibility but he has all the skills to succeed, it is just a matter of maturity.


Tonga is a side capable of causing an upset but can they step up as a 2021 RLWC title competitor? Yes, they sit second in the World Rankings but with so few meaningful internationals played since the COVID-19 pandemic began, this needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. They are stacked with Premiership and State of Origin experience but there will be questions as to whether their spine is up there with the best in the competition. Young Will Penisini could prove one of the stars of the tournament after his year with the Eels. He has become someone to build a team around and will be looking to make a mark on the global stage to continue his development.

There should be excitement around this Tonga side but that will come with some hesitancy. They start the tournament with Taumalolo suspended and lack any other genuine superstars in key positions across their spine. Tonga has the ingredients to be a force in this tournament. However, do they have the players and systems in place to bring everything together?

Key player: Jason Taumalolo

Despite being unable to play in the first few games of the event, Taumalolo’s influence over this team cannot be understated. The lock will be key to getting his side up the field, especially with the valuable post-contact metres he gains. Where he will be most important to his side though is through his leadership and organisation. Tonga contains players with winning experience. Though Tonga lacks many with the leadership abilities needed to provide a structure or rely on when the game is getting tough. Taumalolo has that and will be the talisman for his team.

Concluding Questions of the 2021 RLWC

Which sides do you think will still be standing come the final? Moreover, who will be the players that light up the upcoming tournament? There will be many interesting storylines with this 2021 RLWC edition, which has been delayed by a year because of COVID-19. Additionally, there is also the women’s Rugby League World Cup to look forward to watching.

Read more: The Canada Ravens – Women’s Rugby League World Cup 2021


“Main Photo Credit”
Embed from Getty Images