AUSTRALIA have named an imposing squad for the upcoming Rugby League World Cup, with coach Mal Meninga selecting seven from the NRL Premiers Melbourne Storm and six debutants.
Dally M Medallist Cameron Smith will captain the side, while his erstwhile partners Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk will join him. Cameron Munster completes an all-Storm spine – though he will be challenged by James Maloney and Michael Morgan for the starting 6 jersey – while Will Chambers, Jordan McLean and Felise Kaufusi are also named.
Munster, McLean and Kaufusi will make their debuts in the Green and Gold, with Tom Trbojevic, Dane Gagai and Wade Graham also due to pull on the famous jumper for the first time.
Ahead of the selection, the big question that loomed was whether James Tedesco would be picked ahead of Darius Boyd, who has been suffering from an injury during the final weeks of the NRL season.
In the end, Meninga chose Boyd, telling media: “We’ve got the incumbent in Darius Boyd; never lost a Test match in the green and gold jersey. There was just such a difficult decision but I think it come down to the versatility and around the ability to play a number of positions.”
He added: “We’ve got a great array of full-backs playing our competition at the moment and we’ve got the Clive Churchill full-back in Billy Slater. He had a terrific Origin series.”
Tedesco has immediately made himself available for Italy, for whom he appeared in the 2013 competition.
A controversial non-selection was Blake Ferguson, who won the player of the tournament award at last year’s Four Nations. He was the only player that Meninga called personally to explain his decision.
“Obviously he was clearly upset. He’s been a great player for the green and gold but I had to be honest with him around his form and he accepted that. We move on,” said the Kangaroos coach.
Sam Thaiday, who has represented Australia 32 times since his debut in 2006, blew up on social media, writing: ““So it’s official — the end of my 2017 Rugby League year. Who would’ve thought this year would be the last time I played for both QLD and Australia. A bit of respect would’ve been nice… to at least receive a phone call and learn about selection that way instead of through a leaked report from the media on last night’s news.After dedicating more than 10 years wearing the Maroon and Green and Gold jersey, you’d expect to be treated with a bit more decency and respect. I guess not.”