Winning Starts Monday

1. Billy Slater (Australia) Click for more photos

A world XIII

1. Billy Slater (Australia) Photo: Getty Images

  • 1. Billy Slater (Australia)
  • 2. Ryan Hall (England)
  • 3. Greg Inglis (Australia)
  • 4. Dean Whare (New Zealand)
  • 5. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (New Zealand)
  • 6. Johnathan Thurston (Australia)
  • 7. Cooper Cronk (Australia)
  • 8. James Graham (England)
  • 9. Cameron Smith (Australia)
  • 10. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (New Zealand)
  • 11. Sonny Bill Williams (New Zealand)
  • 12. Sam Burgess (England)
  • 13. Paul Gallen (Australia)

No matter how well New Zealand did in the past, critics could argue that few Kiwis would make the Australian team or a World XIII but that is no longer the case and regardless of the result of the World Cup final it is set to become less so.

In the eight years since New Zealand shocked Australia 24-0 in the 2005 Tri-Nations final, the Kiwis have transformed from a team forced to select make-shift players in key positions to one with world class talent filling those roles.

Willie Talau, Nigel Vagana and Sonny Bill Williams were some of the unlikely five-eighth options either chosen or considered by New Zealand around that time, while Robbie Hunter-Paul and Motu Tony have packed down at hooker and Krisnan Inu was picked at fullback in 2007 after just one NRL match for Parramatta.

Halfback was an even greater problem if Stacey Jones was unavailable and after the little general came out of international retirement to spearhead the 2005 Tri-Nations win, the Kiwis turned to Ben Roberts for five Tests.

"Between 2004 and 2007 we probably had one halfback running around in the NRL and were just trying to make something up otherwise," said New Zealand team manager Tony Iro, who was a selector in 2004 and joined the coaching staff the following year.

"I remember Sonny Bill came under consideration in 2004, Willie Talau was another one and Nigel Vagana has played at six in a number of games for the Kiwis.

"They have all done a good job but that just highlights where we were as a nation, and especially in those real key areas."

But no longer does New Zealand choose players from reserve grade - or even Super League - and NRL form is the main selection criteria, as Adam Blair and Russell Packer can attest after failing to make the World Cup squad.

In fact, 2008 World Cup hero Benji Marshall would not have been guaranteed a place in the starting line-up had he been available, while the Kiwis hardly seem to have missed Jeremy Smith and have overcome the injury to utility Thomas Leuleai.

"In 2008, if we had Benji and Thomas out we would have been looking at the NSW Cup," Iro said

Williams is favourite to win the Rugby League International Federation player of the year on Wednesday night and if a World XIII was chosen now New Zealand would expect to have a handful of players in it.

Significantly, boom halves Shaun Johnson and Keiran Foran (both 23) and hooker Issac Luke (26) are young enough to still be playing in the 2017 and possibly 2021 World Cups, while 20-year-old Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is likely to be the long term fullback option.

However, the star winger will have to wrest the No.1 jersey off Josh Hoffman and Kevin Locke.

Johnson's confidence will soar after he overcame a poor defensive performance against England to come up with the clutch play that snatched victory after the fulltime siren in last weekend's semi-final at Wembley, while Foran has already captained New Zealand twice and many consider Luke to have been the player of the World Cup so far.

The Kiwis have never lacked for backrow talent but coach Stephen Kearney now has an embarrassment of riches up front, with Packer, Sam McKendry and Jason Taumalolo not among the six props chosen for the tournament.

In comparison, Australia's frontrow stocks are thin and the Kangaroos only have three props in their squad, while this is almost certainly the last World Cup for Cameron Smith, Paul Gallen, Billy Slater, Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk, Brent Tate, Corey Parker and Luke Lewis.

All but Williams, Leuluai, Frank Pritchard and Manu Vatuvai from the Kiwis squad are likely to still be available in 2017.

Possible World XIII: Billy Slater (Australia), Ryan Hall (England), Greg Inglis (Australia), Dean Whare (NZ), Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (NZ); Johnathan Thurston (Australia); Cooper Cronk (Australia); James Graham (England), Cameron Smith (Australia), Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (NZ), Sonny Bill Williams (NZ), Sam Burgess (England), Paul Gallen (Australia).