With Sunday morning's World Cup Final, the long awaited 2021 tournament finally drew to a close. We saw a plethora of highlights across three tournaments over the past month.
Australia ultimately completed a perfect double, with big wins in both the women's and men's Finals, but the gaps in both tournaments are closing.
Below are 20 thoughts from arguably the most entertaining Rugby League World Cup in many, many years.
1. If there's one thing the World Cup has taught us is that there needs to be more International Rugby League. We've already seen suggestions for a yearly series between Tonga and Samoa, while the return of the four nations has already been discussed. Tonga, Samoa, New Zealand and Australia are the obvious entrants for such a tournament but let's not forget Fiji, PNG and the Cook Islands either. I'd also like to see Scottland, Wales and Ireland join England in a Northern Four Nations.
2. To those saying they don't care about the international game due to blow out scores - what is the quickest way to ensure those gaps close? More international games! PNG and Fiji were once seen as "easy beats" yet thanks to more games, which leads to more players declaring availability, has seen both nations perform much more strongly. It will take patience, and yes there will be blowouts - but there are blowouts in the NRL almost every week.
3. Despite making the World Cup Final, Samoa (and Tonga for that matter) cannot be declared Tier One nations. It will set both countries back dramatically. If they're Tier One nations then anyone who declares for either, becomes unavailable for Origin. Luai, Crichton, Papalii, Paulo, To'o etc were all happy to declare for their nation after all playing Origin this year. That cannot change for the foreseeable future.
4. How good was the Wheelchair Rugby League World Cup? I'm sure most readers would have heard of "Murderball" (aka Wheelchair Rugby) but wheelchair Rugby League might even be more entertaining still. That final was unmissable while the crowds and performances throughout were the real find of the past month.
5. I avoided the result in the Women's World Cup Final to watch early Sunday morning. I watched it yet still couldn't believe it. The Jillaroos were in a completely different world to a side they only beat by two points earlier in the tournament. Jessica Sergis and Isabelle Kelly are human cheat codes. A huge statement from the Jillaroos.
6. In the men's game, the gap between the big three sides and the rest of the world is closing but Samoa aside, the difference is in the halves. The Aussies, Kiwis and English all presented elite halves combos. Samoa had an Origin rep and a former Origin rep. There is no coincidence they were the top four sides. Moses and Keary are the exceptions but there is a big drop off quality-wise from the big four. Luai was the difference between Samoa and Tonga.
7. Despite the fact England failed to make the Final on home soil, in the long run I believe this campaign will be remembered a positive one. Jack Welsby is a genuine star and is only 21 year's of age. Dominic Young used the tournament to announce his arrival and will now return to Newcastle expecting a big pay rise. George Williams played so well that a return to the NRL seems inevitable. There were positives but I absolutely agree that they blew a near perfect opportunity to make the Final.
8. This World Cup proved just how ridiculous the World Rankings are. For Australia to enter the tournament as the fourth ranked nation was laughable. They are the clear number one, with the Kiwis the undisputed second-best side in the world. Not being ranked as such robbed fans of the dream Final.
9. I still don't believe Mal Meninga knows what his strongest side is. The way he shuffled his side through the early games ultimately worked out, but it really could have gone the other way. The squad he picked came under scrutiny, and Mal will enjoy the last laugh, but leaving Hunt out of a World Cup Quarter Final as you couldn't decide on your halfback is a risky game.
10. I've said it thirty times and I want to make that thirty-one: Brad Fittler made a huge error in not picking the world's best winger to play Origin. Josh Addo Carr had a near perfect tournament. His speed is a weapon no other side can match. Even if To'o and Tupou were available for the Kangaroos, there's no chance Addo-Carr doesn't start in the strongest side.
11. Speaking of Fittler, I don't agree with his comments of opening up the player pool for Origin. Leave the rules as are, at least for a few seasons. It seems to change every hour. Tier Two nation representatives can play Origin without being locked in but I don't like the idea of Joey Manu playing Origin. England and New Zealand reps are very different.
12. I cannot believe I am seeing negative comments re James Tedesco. He was best on ground in the World Cup Final, as captain. He was the Blues best in the most recent Origin Series, again as captain. Ok the Roosters fell short of expectation, but it's tough to point the finger at Tedesco. On the field he's still a top five player in any list.
13. Those in goals for the World Cup Final were awful. I understand Old Trafford is a football (soccer) ground and has history etc but it's so dangerous and takes away a huge part of the game. It will shock no one to read that there were only two forced dropouts considering the shallow in goals.
14. Heading into the tournament I declared New Zealand has the best squad, and despite falling to the Aussies in the Semi Finals, I stand by those comments. They will be absolutely devastated to have dropped that game to their bitter rivals. A coaching error, allowing Brandon Smith to stay on the field despite very obviously being exhausted was the difference.
15. France will host the 2025 World Cup. Given the incredible stadiums on offer, it should be a brilliant tournament. I really hope that the 2029 version is awarded to New Zealand. Given the advancement we're sure to see in the likes of Samoa, Tonga, Cook Islands etc, you can almost guarantee a streak of sell outs across brilliant stadiums. It's a long way off yet but it's time for the Kiwis to host the tournament on their own.
16. I saw some punters asking for a return of the Great Britain Lions for this World Cup and future tournaments. I like the idea of Lions tours but not so much in the World Cup. Truthfully, I don't think it would matter given that England would almost certainly supply all 17 players in any given fixture.
17. Although the side is fun to speculate about, and would do some real damage results wise, I don't want to see an Indigenous side at World Cup level. The All-Stars game is a great concept while an Aus vs Indigenous Aus World Cup fixture goes against everything the Cup should be about.
18. Hard to go past Samoa/England for game of the tournament but there was entertainment throughout. PNG games are simply cannot miss, while Fiji have continued their reputation as entertainers. France may have been the biggest surprise packet with their win over Greece the standout upset of the early stages.
19. A final comment directed at those who denounce the World Cup tournaments ... go ask the Jamaican players and fans if their copping three hidings was all they'll take out of their fixtures! Amazing scenes in the crowd for the emerging nations.
20. I still maintain that the pre-game is the best part of Test Matches. The emotion, the pride, the tears. I love the international game!