Rugby League World Cup: We look at the highs and lows of the 2013 tournament

By James Pearson - @SkySportsPeo.   Last Updated: 01/12/13 3:22pm

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Australia: The winners of the 2013 Rugby League World Cup and the team of the tournament

Australia: The winners of the 2013 Rugby League World Cup and the team of the tournament

Sky Bet

So the latest instalment of the Rugby League World Cup concluded on Saturday with Australia regaining their title against Tasmanian rivals New Zealand following a thumping 34-2 success at Old Trafford.

The past five weeks have provided thrills and spills for fans in what is being dubbed probably the most successful tournament ever.

We take a look back at the highs and occasional low of five weeks of world class rugby league.

Australia

Team of the Tournament

Australia might have been a little slow out of the blocks against England in Cardiff back on October 26, but they finished the tournament in top gear by hammering the Kiwis.

Amazingly the Kangaroos went five games without even conceding a try, including Saturday's 34-2 triumph over Stephen Kearney's men at Old Trafford.

England scored four tries against Australia in their opening match in Wales, but Australia managed to stop the likes of Ireland, Fiji (twice), USA and New Zealand crossing their whitewash thereafter.

Incredibly Australia conceded just 24 points - 20 of those came in their Group A opener against England, although they were not just a defensive team. They were extremely potent in attack.

After totalling 112 points in their three group games Australia then piled on 62 and 64 points respectively against the USA and Fiji before scoring another five tries against New Zealand. That's 272 points in six games, an incredible average of 45.3 points a game. You're not going to lose many games, if any, with that sort of strike-rate.

Australia were impressive in 2008 on home soil prior to the final and Saturday's success, which came 13 years after their last final victory over the Kiwis, will have gone some way to atoning for that upset five years ago.

"Our defence was great and our attitude was terrific. I hope the 13-man code is pushed to the fore in this country (England) by this game," said head coach Sheens.

"We didn't start the game thinking we couldn't concede a try, but as the game went on we did and the guys dug in."

Thurston: Perfect with the boot at Old Trafford

Johnathan Thurston

Player of the Tournament

There are numerous contenders for this prize, a list that includes the likes of England's Sam Burgess, Sonny Bill Williams and Issac Luke from New Zealand, however, I'm going to go for Australia's Thurston.

The Kangaroos are packed with superstars and picking a stand-out contender from Tim Sheens' squad is a job in itself. The likes of Billy Slater, Greg Inglis, Brett Morris, Jarryd Hayne, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith were all outstanding in the tournament. However, I've gone for North Queensland Cowboys' 30-year-old half-back.

Thurston was flawless throughout, especially in the final at Old Trafford where he kicked seven goals from seven attempts, along with pin-point kicks in attacking play. His 14-point haul in Manchester helped him surpass Mick Cronin's record of 309 points in internationals.

Full-back Billy Slater paid tribute to Thurston, telling abc.net.au: "He's picked up our players' player award and picked up the player of the series and thoroughly deserves it. I wouldn't be surprised if he picked up the Golden Boot either.

"He's a tremendous player. He's not a super-fast guy, he's not a super big guy but he's got a great football brain and he makes the right decisions most of the time."

Shaun Johnson: Broke England's hearts at Wembley

England 18-20 New Zealand

Game of the Tournament

This for me was one of the best rugby league matches in recent memory. It had everything. The holders against the hosts at Wembley for the right to retain and the chance to win the trophy.

England were far from their best in reaching the semis, although they did give the Kangaroos an early scare in South Wales before Sheens' men were able to make their class tell.

However, come the big occasion and England were superb, led by the man mountain that is Sam Burgess. The South Sydney Rabbitohs forward was world class from start to finish.

It was the ex-Bradford Bulls man's try that looked to have given England a place in the final before Shaun Johnson jinked inside Kevin Sinfield and catapulted himself over the try line to level the scores at 18 apiece.

Only nerves were going to stop the Kiwis breaking England hearts, but Johnson held his to slot over the relatively simple conversion as time expired to give New Zealand a remarkable and thrilling triumph over McNamara's troops.

The Tomahawks: Have raised the profile of the sport in the United States

USA and Scotland

Surprise of the Tournament

I'm going to make this a joint award. For me both the USA and Scotland were surprise packages and both exceeded expectations and won over the world of rugby league. Let's start with Scotland. Their playmaker Danny Brough was born in Dewsbury and many felt that he should have been part of Steve McNamara's England squad.

But for whatever reason he was not wanted and England's loss was definitely Scotland's gain. Scotland upset Tonga in their opener in Workington before securing a credible draw against the impressive Italians. They beat the USA in their final group clash to set up a mouth-watering clash against New Zealand at Headingley. They gave their all against the Kiwis, although they were realistically never going to upset the holders, eventually losing 40-4 in West Yorkshire.

When you think of sport in the United States you immediately think baseball, basketball, American football and ice hockey. Seldom, if ever, does rugby league come into the equation. However, that could all change following this year's Rugby League World Cup.

The USA's expectations were so low that they had to re-arrange their travel plans after qualifying from Group D. Games that included wins over the Cook Islands and co-hosts Wales, who finished their campaign winless from three matches.

Now Terry Matterson's men were never going to cause Australia any serious problems in the quarters in Wrexham, but it did not matter one bit. The fact that the Americans, or players with American heritage, actually won games to help raise the profile of the game in the world's biggest nation is the overriding factor.

Steve McNamara: Had his hands full throughout the tournament

England - Boozegate

Controversy of the Tournament

One would think a coach's biggest worry during an international tournament would be on-field issues, but try telling that to Steve McNamara. Now England might have ended the competition with their tails up, but it was anything but during the first few weeks.

Even before a ball had been kicked England lost a man, after Gareth Hock had been kicked out for sleeping in and missing a meeting in the wake of their friendly defeat to Italy. Other players were involved, although not named, with James Graham a notable absentee as England kicked off their campaign against Australia.

Things didn't finish there. Days after England returned to winning ways by beating Ireland in Huddersfield they were to lose another member of their squad - Zak Hardaker.

McNamara initially put Hardaker's absence against Ireland down to illness only for the Leeds Rhinos full-back to withdraw from the squad due to 'personal issues'. The Rhinos later fined Hardaker £2,500 for breaching the club's code of conduct.

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck: Scored a sensational try against Scotland

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck

Try of the Tournament

In Roger Tuivasa-Sheck New Zealand have one of the most exciting wingers in the game. The Samoa-born youngster is just 20, but after this tournament he is a household name in rugby league circles.

He scored tries aplenty during the tournament, but his length of the field effort against Scotland is the one that stands out in the memory.

Scotland were on the attack, but that counted for little. Scotland hacked the ball forward straight to Tuivasa-Sheck and although it seemed like Danny Brough was well-placed to make the tackle he jinked inside the would-be tackler before bursting clear and racing the length of the field for the score.

Tuivasa-Sheck, who won the Man of the Match award in the game, credits his dad for his incredible footwork.

"I got it off my dad, he did all of the steps," Tuivasa-Sheck said after the game. "I played a lot of touch rugby back in New Zealand and in the off season I'd play in our family's touch tournament and that's where I picked it up."

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