What we learned: RLWC semi-finals

Australia showed their class and England survived a late scare to book their spots in the World Cup final while Tonga and Fiji confirmed their status as powerhouses on the rise. 

Holmes is a winger

Valentine Holmes might see himself as a fullback but from afar it appears as though he's best suited to the wing. The prodigiously-talented speedster donned the No.1 jersey for the Sharks in 2017 and performed admirably but his best performances this season have come on the flank. 

The 22-year-old crossed for six tries in 22 games for the Sharks but has taken his game to new heights on the wing. Holmes bagged four tries in two games for the Maroons and has been virtually untouchable in the World Cup with 11 tries in his past two matches, including a record-breaking haul of six against Fiji. 

Scoring tries isn't the only thing backs are judged on, but it's clear Holmes is more threatening on the wing. His speed, strength, footwork and damaging kick returns are a nightmare for opposition defences, and with Josh Dugan and Matt Moylan to call the Shire home next year, Holmes could be set for a return to the wing. 

 


‌Semi-final woes continue for the Bati

They surprised many by reaching the final four, but a week after downing the Kiwis on the back of a spirited defensive effort the gulf in class proved too much for Fiji as they were comprehensively blown off the park by the Kangaroos. 

The ease in which they moved the ball in the pool stage was nowhere to be seen as they were choked into submission by Australia's well-oiled defence. Fiji completed just 58 per cent of their sets and also missed 50 tackles as Mal Meninga's men killed off the contest before half-time. 

Given they were without some of their most influential big men, the signs are positive for Mick Potter's side going forward. They'll just hope they don't have to meet the Kangaroos in the semis at the next World Cup given their woeful record against the men in green and gold. 

 


Was it a knock on?

English fans will tell you Andrew Fifita dropped the ball cold. Tongan supporters are adamant Elliott Whitehead stripped the Steeden and it should have been play on as Fifita regathered and managed to ground the ball. 

Perhaps the biggest talking point was the fact referee Matt Cecchin didn't send the play upstairs.

Sadly, it's a lose-lose situation for Cecchin. On one hand people complain that we over-scrutinise too many try-scoring plays. But when a referee has the courage to make a call and stick with it, those same people cry foul. 

Cecchin should be applauded for making the decision under intense pressure, and if truth be told, the video referee would have been a brave man to overturn the call. 

Tonga had their chances to win it and will rue the fact they left their run so late. That's why they lost, not because a referee made what was probably the right call. 

 


Widdop shows his true colours

It appeared a fait accompli that Gareth Widdop would partner Ben Hunt in the halves at the Dragons next year, but such has been his form at fullback for England that there have been calls for him to don the No.1 jersey for the Red V in 2018. 

Widdop's move to the back has reinvigorated England's attack and he was again outstanding in the win over Tonga. He finished the game with two try assists and a four-pointer of his own while his right boot proved the difference with four goals from as many attempts. 

Should Dragons coach Paul McGregor shift his skipper to the back, a bulked-up Jai Field, Kurt Mann or even Matt Dufty could take his spot in the halves. It would be a gamble, but Widdop won a premiership with the Storm in 2009 in the under-20s at fullback and has the all-round game to be a threat out the back. 

 


Ashes rivals sweating on injuries

Both grand finalists have injury concerns ahead of Saturday's clash, with England's walking wounded in extreme doubt for the decider. 

England coach Wayne Bennett revealed after the game that Josh Hodgson (knee) and Sean O'Loughlin (quad) were unlikely to feature in the final.

"I'm not sure what's going on there [with Josh], I don't think he will be alright to play next week, you don't normally limp off like that and play next week," Bennett said.

"Sean will be in some doubt too."

Australia have their own concerns with Aaron Woods (shoulder), Josh McGuire (ankle) and Josh Dugan (ankle) all picking up minor injuries in the win over Fiji. 

The future is now for Tonga

They might have fallen agonisingly short of a maiden World Cup final but Tonga lost no admirers after an epic comeback against England. 

Mate Ma'a have been the story of the tournament from the moment Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita decided to defect and they have backed up the hype with a series of stunning performances on and off the field.

The comeback win over New Zealand will go down as one of the greatest rugby league moments of the year while the atmosphere in Auckland on Saturday evening was something NRL clubs can only dream about. 

The passion off the field was only matched by the players on it as they did their country proud to put Tonga firmly on the map as a rugby league powerhouse.