Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga backs Josh McGuire and Ben Hunt
Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga backs Josh McGuire and Ben Hunt

Kangaroos bombshell: McGuire, Hunt ahead of young guns

AUSTRALIA'S Test coach Mal Meninga has dropped a string of potential selection bombshells ahead of the NRL finals series.

In a brutally honest assessment of the individual hopes of all leading contenders, Meninga revealed why North 

Queensland bad boy Josh McGuire's Test incumbency could ultimately deny young guns like Cameron Murray, David Fifita and Payne Haas a Kangaroo call-up this year.

Meninga also conceded that his loyalty rewards would likely extend to under-fire St George Illawarra halfback Ben Hunt, and he confirmed his support for Latrell Mitchell despite Brad Fittler's shock decision to dump the star Sydney Roosters centre from his NSW Origin team.

 

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Meninga said he would be naming a 19- or 20-man squad to play in the Tests against New Zealand and Tonga after the grand final, while also selecting a historic under-23s Junior Kangaroos team to play France.

 

For that reason he wants to make it harder, not easier, for young players to push their way into the Kangaroos' top side.

He said the likes of Murray, Fifita and Haas would only make the squad this year if their finals form demanded it.

"You have to bide your time," Meninga said.

Cameron Murray has had a superb season for the Rabbitohs and NSW. Picture: AAP
Cameron Murray has had a superb season for the Rabbitohs and NSW. Picture: AAP

"There are players who have been there who haven't let their country down and are still playing really good football. There is a pecking order."

Most fans would rate Murray's form this year as far superior to McGuire, especially given McGuire's repeatedly ­grubby on-field tactics.

However, one thing Meninga is big on is loyalty. Asked specifically about Murray's chances, Meninga said the South Sydney sensation was "in the picture".

"I mean, we have a whole plethora of backrowers," Meninga said.

"Jake Trbojevic has been outstanding. And Josh is still in the picture."

Meninga also indicated Hunt was not in danger of losing his bench spot despite his struggles with the Dragons.

"Benny Hunt's performance at nine during Origin was outstanding," Meninga said.

"We will probably need to take someone to cover Damien Cook's spot. Who else can play nine?"

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Asked if he expected to make many changes to the squad that beat Tonga last year, Meninga said: "There won't be too many changes, if there are any at all.

"We went through a bit of a major change last year. No Smithy (Cameron Smith), no JT (Johnathan Thurston), no Billy (Slater), no Greg (Inglis)."

Of the team that beat Tonga, Jack Wighton is the frontrunner to replace the injured Tom Trbojevic at centre, while Josh Addo-Carr is expected to come in for Valentine Holmes on the wing.

Jordan McLean will take a fall for the Cowboys' poor season to make room for in-form prop Josh Papalii.

On the bench, Aaron Woods will struggle to keep his spot, as will Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Tyrone Peachey.

That still leaves little wiggle room for the host of young stars banging down the selection door, including the likes of ­Murray, Fifita, Haas and Wade Graham.

MAL MENINGA'S KANGAROOS FRONTRUNNERS

James Tedesco, Dane Gagai, Jack Wighton, Latrell Mitchell, Josh Addo-Carr, Cameron Munster, Daly Cherry-Evans/Luke Keary, David Klemmer, Damien Cook, Josh Papalii, Boyd Cordner, Felise Kaufusi, Jake Trbojevic. Interchange: Ben Hunt, Josh McGuire, Paul Vaughan, Cameron Murray, Tyson Frizell, Wade Graham.

Fullback: If fit, James Tedesco will wear the No.1 jumper. The problem will be if Tedesco is unavailable. With Tom Trbojevic sidelined (torn pec) and Kalyn Ponga out of form, Meninga could play Cameron Munster at fullback given his performance in Origin III and the fact Luke Keary is the other option to play five-eighth. Options: Tedesco, Ponga, Munster.

Wingers: When we started talking wingers, the first name Mal mentioned was Dane Gagai. Given Valentine Holmes is off chasing his NFL dream, Josh Addo-Carr has the jump on Blake Ferguson. Options: Gagai, Addo-Carr, Ferguson, Corey Oates.

Latrell Mitchell is set to retain his spot in the centres for Australia. Picture: Getty Images
Latrell Mitchell is set to retain his spot in the centres for Australia. Picture: Getty Images

Centres: With Tommy Turbo in the mechanic shop, Jack Wighton only has to stay fit and his green-and-gold dream should come true. Reminded that Brad Fittler dumped Latrell Mitchell from the NSW team, Meninga responded: "I am comfortable with the way Latrell is travelling." Options: Mitchell, Wighton, Will Chambers.

Halves: If all things stay as they are, Cameron Munster will wear six and Mal will have a big decision to make as to who starts as his halves partner: Daly Cherry-Evans or Luke Keary? Mal indicated all three would make the 20-man squad. Options: Munster, Cherry-Evans, Keary.

David Klemmer has a fan in Mal Meninga. Picture: AAP
David Klemmer has a fan in Mal Meninga. Picture: AAP

Middle forwards: All three incumbents - David Klemmer, Jordan McLean and Josh McGuire - are not playing in the finals. Klemmer wasn't Newcastle's worst during the back end of the season but he wasn't at his best. Yet Mal is a huge Klemmer fan. McLean will drop out for Josh Papalii. The battle to wear the No.13 jumper is wide open. I wouldn't pick McGuire because of his behaviour. I mentioned to Mal he could move Jake Trbojevic to the front row to partner Papalii and start Cameron Murray at lock. I get the feeling Mal will stick with McGuire, either in the starting side or on the bench, which makes me wonder if there is room for Murray. I think his versatility and the fact he can cover centre make him a must. Most likely all will make the squad, along with Paul Vaughan and possibly Dale Finucane. Options: Klemmer, McLean, Jake Trbojevic, McGuire, Murray, Finucane, Vaughan, Payne Haas.

Back row: Incumbents Boyd Cordner and Felise Kaufusi are in. Tyson Frizell (incumbent) and Wade Graham will fight for spots in the squad. Options: Cordner, Kaufusi, Frizell, Graham, Matt Gillett, David Fifita, Josh Jackson.

Hooker: Damien Cook. Ben Hunt will be in the squad. Options: Cook, Hunt.

 

 

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News Corp Australia


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