With limited opportunity for international rugby league to be played before next year’s World Cup, the Exiles look set to be brought back from an eight-year hiatus for a mid-year clash with England.
While some might argue this adds up to little more than an exhibition match, the Exiles team (or ‘Other Nationalities’ or ‘Rest of the World’ in their previous incarnations) actually holds an important place in international rugby league history, having played in the first ever rugby league international fixture against the Northern Union in 1904, taking the chocolates that day 9-3.
Boasting some league royalty in their alumni, the Exiles also provided the opportunity for venerated figures such as Harry Bath and Brian Bevan to taste international footy, which they criminally would have missed out on otherwise.
The 2021 Exiles side promises to be a beauty – let’s see how it might shape up.
1. Bevan French (Wigan, Australia) French might have had a couple of sleepless nights following the last minute of the final, but he has well and truly given swathes of defenders nightmares this season with his with his explosive pace and footwork. His numbers for the season are sensational: 12 tries in 17 games, 27 line breaks and 127 metres per game. But he also showed an ability to put a teammate through a gap, too. St Helens made it a point in the final to direct their kicking well away from French.
2. Kevin Naiqama (St Helens, Fiji) Naiqama added a second straight Super League title with St Helens this season. Played at centre for most of the season, Naiqama has formed a solid partnership with English international Tommy Makinson. His season highlight came in the semi-final against Catalans, which saw Naiqama post a hat trick of tries to annihilate the Dragons 48-2.
3. Greg Inglis (Warrington, Australia) Not much needs to be said here. It’ll be worth the price of admission just to see Inglis line up on the pitch again alongside his former Queensland counterpart Israel Folau.
4. Konrad Hurrell (Leeds, Tonga) Already a fan favourite at Leeds, Hurrell was at his bustling best this season. He caused numerous defences headaches with his ability to break a tackle at will and he notched plenty of metres. He capped off a fine season with a Challenge Cup winners medal.
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5. Israel Folau (Catalans, Australia) Folau was solid without being spectacular in his return to rugby league, but Catalans’ heavily disrupted schedule probably didn’t help. He still proved he is a danger in attack with seven try assists in his 11 games and average of five tackle breaks per game.
6. James Maloney (Catalans, Australia) The experienced half comes into the side after piloting Catalans to a third-placed finish this season. Although his discipline and defence were patchy, he still showed his ability to be a match-winner with a clever last-minute solo try to see off Hull FC.
7. Aidan Sezer (Huddersfield, Australia) Sezer joined Super League stragglers Huddersfield for the 2020 season. The Giants may have narrowly missed out on a finals spot, but Sezer’s presence has given his side much more potency in attack. It didn’t take long for him to have an impact, managing 18 try assists in 18 games, which helped take Huddersfield to the top of the ladder in the early rounds of the season. His goal kicking also proved a plus, landing a clutch sideline conversation to see off eventual champions St Helens in Round 5.
8. Kelepi Tanginoa (Wakefield, Australia) Tanginoa was one of the standouts in a Wakefield side that struggled in 2020. His ability to earn big metres for Trinity week in and week out saw him jag a spot in the 2020 Super League Dream Team. Trinity threw the kitchen sink at Tanginoa to secure him on a four-year deal.
9. Jackson Hastings (Wigan, Australia/England) Assuming English coach Shaun Wane continues his policy of only selecting English-born English players, Hastings comes into the side after coming desperately close to sealing a second straight Man of Steel award with another superb season. Despite being named at halfback throughout the season, Hastings spent a lot of time at dummy-half and moves to hooker to accommodate the halves pairing of Sezer and Maloney. His running game and strength close to the line caused constant headaches for opposition defences this season, while his ability to lay on try saw him amass 18 try assists for the year. Unfortunately he wasn’t rewarded for his fine efforts with a second straight defeat in the final.
10. Matt Prior (Leeds, Australia) The 33-year-old Prior would make his international debut for the Exiles at prop forward, adding some quality up front. He has a powerful motor, which allowed him to rack up over 30 tackles a game for Leeds this past season.
11. Joel Thompson (St Helens, Australia) Thompson has left Manly to join St Helens in 2021 as a big-name signing to an already impressive squad, which will give him the perfect chance to claim some elusive silverware to cap off a fine career.
12. Rhyse Martin (Leeds, PNG) Another addition from Leeds, Papua New Guinea representative Martin adds plenty of size, pace and footwork up front. He’s not afraid to get his hands dirty in defence either, averaging over 30 tackles per game this season. Martin’s handy goal kicking adds another string to his bow.
13. Willie Isa (Wigan, Samoa) Veteran Isa was a workhorse for Wigan in their surge to the minor premiership, getting through plenty of work in defence while racking up good metres with ball in hand.
14. Sam Kasiano (Catalans, New Zealand/Samoa) Kasiano spearheaded a monster forward pack at Catalans, which was able to bully its opponents into submission. His season highlight will go down in showing an unexpected turn of pace to go the length of the field for a try against Wakefield.
15. Lachlan Coote (St Helens, Scotland/Australia) Coote enjoyed another outstanding season with St Helens at fullback. Playing as an extra half in attack, Coote has assumed a Darren Lockyer-esque role, which saw him chime in for 14 try assists in 13 outings while taking the kicking pressure off his halves. To top it off, Coote managed to kick at an outstanding 87 per cent for the season. He is another member of this Exiles squad that was in strong contention for the Man of Steel award.
16. Dominique Peyroux (Toulouse, Cook Islands/Samoa) Recently signed for Toulouse, the centre-turned-second-rower offers some size and a burst of speed off the bench after a couple of successful years with St Helens.
17. Julian Bousquet (Catalans, France) Another bash brother from Catalans and the only Frenchman in the side, Bousquet offers some starch and a handy offload from the bench.