Williams the star draw, but Kangaroos dominate
New Zealand's Sonny Bill Williams runs with the ball during the 2013 Rugby League World Cup Final between Australia and New Zealand at Old Trafford in Manchester on November 30, 2013
After initially spurning a chance for selection for the New Zealand side, Williams backed down and was a late inclusion at the expense of an already-named player - another page of controversy nonchalantly added to his tumultuous career.
Williams, playing as a centre, had won the union World Cup with the All Blacks on home soil in 2011. Reinventing himself as a second rower, the 28-year-old was bidding to become the first player to win Cups in both leagues.
But it was not to be as his Kiwi side were thrashed 34-2 by Australia in the final at Old Trafford.
That 28th game in the 35-day tournament was a sell-out, the 74,468 fans packed into Manchester United's pristine stadium setting a new record for an international rugby league match.
The atmoshphere garnered from a largely neutral crowd in a neutral venue was fantastic and echoed similar crowd successes around England, Wales and France, where the French played two games.
The Kangaroos sailed through the final, displaying a cut-throat attack with a no-holds-barred defence that snaffled anything Williams and co. could throw at them.
Indeed, so good was Australia's defence, the sole three tries scored against them came in their opening 28-20 pool victory over England in Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.
After that performance, which they labelled "embarrassing", the Kangaroos went back to basics and conceded only two more penalties (and not a single line bust) en route to claiming the crown.
They racked up crushing victories over Fiji (34-2), Ireland (50-0), the USA (62-0 in quarter-final) and Fiji again (64-0 in semi-final).
Despite the gulf in levels between the top trio of Australia, New Zealand and England, players and officials all insisted that the game was healthy and growing.
"The World Cup has exceeded everyone's expectations no matter what criteria you use," said tournament director Nigel Wood.
"It can provide a really solid launchpad for the game domestically for the next few years and also for the international federation, with the way that its coffers have been filled for a new phase of its development cycle."
Wood added: "Most people would like the big three to become the big six or eight but four would be a marked improvement.
"We need resources and a strategic plan for those nations most likely to fill those slots.
"The international federation has some significant decisions to make."
It was not all doom and gloom for Williams, however, as he became the first non-Australian to pick up the Player of the year award, just one season after his comeback in league after a five-year absence.
In that time, Williams won 19 caps for the All Blacks, also played union in Japan and France, and went on to become New Zealand's heavyweight boxing champion.
His departure in 2008 was mired in bad blood, and he was nicknamed "Money Bill", but Williams' presence for the World Cup proved the game has a future, albeit one that will require some innovative thinking from officials to really maximise on the success of the tournament.
Queensland continued their dominance over New South Wales in the State of Origin, winning their eighth straight series with a fiercely fought 12-10 victory in the third deciding game.
The Sydney Roosters, lifted by Williams, scored three tries in the final 25 minutes to overhaul Manly Sea Eagles and win Australia's National Rugby League Grand Final 26-18, their 13th premiership title.
In England, Wigan claimed the first Grand Final and Challenge Cup double in seven years at Old Trafford.