THE NRL season is done and dusted, but rugby league fans need not fret.
We’ve got a World Cup to look forward to.
What’s not yet known is exactly who we’ll be watching during the five-week tournament over October and November.
The bulk of the national squads will be announced this week. Australia will reveal theirs at a press conference on Tuesday morning, and New Zealand will release their squad on Thursday.
And there’s plenty of positions up for grabs.
Foxsports.com.au has run the rule over the World Cup bolters who stood up over the four-week NRL finals series.
And there’s no better stage on which to audition for a national jumper.
MICHAEL MORGAN (Kangaroos)
Arguably the best player of the finals series, Morgan has probably sealed the Australian No.6 jumper.
It was last worn by his North Queensland teammate Johnathan Thurston, who is unavailable for selection for the World Cup due to a shoulder injury.
Morgan’s three performances to get the Cowboys to the grand final were stunning.
After beating the Roosters in the preliminary, Fox Sports commentators Greg Alexander and Steve Roach went as far as to claim Morgan was the competition’s best in-form halfback.
He couldn’t get the job done in the grand final but Mal Meninga won’t forget what Morgan did prior to that.
STORM RATINGS: Smith’s ‘perfect’ decider pushed by unsung hero
COWBOYS RATINGS: Beast tambed, Morgs’ mediocre showing
DALE FINUCANE (Kangaroos)
He was the unheralded hero of the grand final, as most of the commentary centred on Melbourne’s “big three” and backrower Tohu Harris.
But Finucane was massive in the middle for the Storm, running for 103 metres with 13 carries, scoring a try and making 32 tackles.
Prior to that he ran for 111 metres and made 28 tackles in the preliminary clash with Brisbane, and made 31 tackles against Parramatta in week one.
He’s flown under the radar for a long time but Mal Meninga must be starting to take notice.
BILLY SLATER (Kangaroos)
He hasn’t worn the green and gold strip for three years, but Slater’s remarkable rugby league comeback will be complete when he turns out for the Kangaroos later this month.
There’s no way he can be overlooked by Australian selectors, as he was by Queensland hierarchy for Origin I in what was a controversial omission.
Winning the Clive Churchill Medal on Sunday as the best player in the grand final was the cherry on top of what has been a stellar season for the Melbourne veteran.
Most likely he will regain the national fullback spot, and if Darius Boyd is fit, he will slot into the backline somewhere else.
Boyd’s chances of retaining the No.1 jumper were hampered by an injury-hit finals campaign.
TE MAIRE MARTIN (Kiwis)
The young North Queensland playmaker is now the obvious choice to replace Kieran Foran as the New Zealand five-eighth.
Foran has made himself unavailable for the World Cup and the Cowboys’ unlikely finals run rocketed Martin into the box seat.
He scored his side’s only try of the grand final, and was instrumental in the three games prior to that.
His solo try against the Roosters in the preliminary — when he sold a dummy then walked through about five defenders to score — was a highlight of his finals campaign.
JOSH ADDO-CARR (Kangaroos)
A big finals campaign has suddenly rocketed the young Storm flyer into contention for a shock call-up to Australia’s wing.
A highlight was his stunning 80-metre dash to score in the grand final, and then a sealer on the end of a Tohu Harris long ball.
The incumbents are Val Holmes and Blake Ferguson but the fact Addo-Carr starred in a winning grand final will give him a massive leg-up.
He’s also arguably been in better form than both the incumbents.
REAGAN CAMPBELL-GILLARD (Kangaroos)
With Penrith teammate Trent Merrin unavailable for the World Cup due to injury, it could be time for Campbell-Gilard to step up.
He was enormous in Penrith’s loss to Brisbane in week two of the finals, and looked the Panthers’ best hope of upsetting the Broncos.
He charged to the line only to be obstructed by the goalpost, then scored a great try when he spun through a couple of defenders and charged 15 metres to dive over.
Prior to that he clocked up 103 metres and 28 tackles against Manly in week one.
CAMERON MUNSTER (Kangaroos)
He flies under the radar playing alongside Melbourne’s “big three”, but don’t underestimate the role of Munster in the club’s premiership charge.
He was vital at five-eighth in the Storm’s three finals games and eventual title win.
Munster made his Origin debut this year and looked like an old head on the biggest stage.
The step up to the Kangaroos won’t faze him.
He’ll battle it out with Michael Morgan for the Australian five-eighth spot, but could easily fill a role on the bench or in the backline.
LATRELL MITCHELL (Kangaroos)
He made opposing centre James Roberts look silly when he palmed him to the ground and ran away to score the matchwinning try in week one of the finals.
The Roosters were trailing Brisbane in the 75th minute when Mitchell produced the moment of individual brilliance to win the game.
He scored another when the Chooks lost the preliminary to the Cowboys, when he was switching between wing and centre.
He’s been on representative radars for a couple of years already and it’s only a matter of time before the young centre makes the step up.
Josh Dugan’s so-so form at the back end of the year could also open up a spot in the centres for Australia.
KODI NIKORIMA (Kiwis)
The Broncos young gun will be fighting it out with Te Maire Martin for the New Zealand five-eighth spot.
Even if he’s coming off the bench, he’ll be involved in the Kiwis set-up in some fashion.
Kodi is a solid player in his own right but his greatest asset is the versatility he provides.
If David Kidwell sits Nikorima on the bench he knows he has a variety of positions covered, including hooker, halves, and in the backline.
Nikorima showed his versatility when he stepped up to fill Darius Boyd’s shoes at fullback.
He was then thrown back into halfback for the Broncos.
He’s not afraid of the big stage.
NATHAN CLEARY (Kangaroos)
He scored 10 points and was immense in Penrith’s controversial week one trumping of the Sea Eagles.
He went missing in the next game against Brisbane and the Penrith game plan was heavily criticised.
But that was more a case of the Panthers team failing to support their young halfback.
He won’t be snatching a starting halves spot for the Kangaroos but he could make the squad and be blooded into the system.