Competing in their first tournament since 2000, this Lebanese squad can be immensely proud of what they achieved over the space of their three weeks in the competition.
Coach Brad Fittler admitted that his side, made up with players mostly based in Australia, would probably not have the skill to match the big boys in the competition.
They did however, have the courage and determination to stand toe-to-toe with grand final winners, super league veterans, and top players of the game, and did not embarrass themselves in the slightest.
The aim now for Lebanon, who narrowly lost out to Tonga in their quarter-final in what many though would be a one-sided affair, is to grow the sport over in the Middle-East ready for 2021.
If Lebanon can encourage more people to take up the sport, their player pool will be far bigger in four years.
It is a work in progress for this rugby league nation, yet the years ahead will have only been boosted by their incredible performances throughout this World Cup.
Year after year, France have a team that, on paper, should have the requisite quality to progress to the knockout stages of the World Cup.
They managed that feat in 2013, but Aurélien Cologni’s side had to settle for three defeats in their 2017 campaign.
Their best chance of winning came in their 29-18 loss to Lebanon, whose roaring fans perhaps gave them a psychological advantage over the French.
Les Tricolores were never likely to get anything out of their games against England and Australia, but their ability to keep their points difference deficit is perhaps the most positive thing to be taken out of this tournament for them.
Their squad is only young though- the likes of captain Theo Fages and second-rower Benjamin Jullien will have far more experience of big game scenarios in 2021.
Cologni knows that his side have the talent there, and it is now his job to turn individually talented players into a far more coherent side.
Optimism was high for Wayne Bennett’s side coming into the competition, but any thoughts that they had a squad to rival the likes of Australia were shattered in the opening game of the tournament.
It would’ve been easy for their heads to drop, but full credit must be given for the way that they bounced back and put in thoroughly professional performances against France and Lebanon.
The margins of victory were not as handsome as many fans will have hoped, yet that will not have concerned their Australian ‘supercoach’.
Over the tournament, England developed into a far more well-rounded side, with the likes of Jermain McGilllvary and Ryan Hall showing why they are up there with the best wingers in the World.
Their ability to stand firm against PNG and Tonga, in what can both be described as extremely ferocious crowds, showed their resilience, and their narrow defeat in the final showed just how far they had progressed from day one to the last match.
The overwhelming response to England’s campaign will be pride, and it is now up to Wayne Bennett to decide whether or not he wants to stay on.
Regardless of his decision, England now have the core group of talent needed to push on in 2021, and will be hoping that they can go one step further in front of their home fans.
I for one think that it is very much a realistic suggestion.
This tournament has shown us two main things about international rugby league:
- The gap between the top teams has significantly narrowed from 2013.
2. Australia’s ability to churn out such vast quantities of incredibly talented stars in somewhat-incredible.
Australia have won the World Cup yet again but, by their own admission, it was the hardest they have ever had to work for it.
Mal Meninga’s side have conceded just eight points in their last six World Cup knockout games! It is frightening to comprehend any team ever being able to do that again.
The Aussies, roared on by their vocal fans, know that this 2017 has been a sizeable success. Whether it be free-scoring rugby or tough-tackling in defence, they have continually set the benchmark for others to follow.
The only real concern heading into 2021 is the number of players who will be retiring. Their spine of Billy Slater, Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk will likely be no more in four years’ time.
It is up to Meninga and his coaching team to continue to develop their young superstars, and hope they can continue to deliver the business for the Green and Gold’s.
Despite this, Australia can revel in the here and now. A tournament where they once again proved why they are the most superior nation in the history of the sport.