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New era with many spots up for grabs in trophy defence


It’s the start of a new era for the Kangaroos as nearly three years will have elapsed between games by the time they play their first World Cup match.

There will not only be several new faces because several players from 2019 have either retired or are no longer on the representative radar, but there are current stars unavailable due to injury and declaring their eligibility for other nations.

Storm fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen (fractured kneecap) and Tom Trbojevic (shoulder surgery) and are the biggest names who have been sidelined by injury although the Manly star is holding out hope of making a comeback if the Sea Eagles go deep into the finals to potentially prove his fitness for Australian selection.

NSW winger Brian To’o, Penrith teammate Jarome Luai and Maroons prop Josh Papalii have elected to represent Samoa while Storm forward Felise Kaufusi and Roosters winger Daniel Tupou have switched allegiances to Tonga and the quartet would have all been in the mix for Australian selection.

Valentine Holmes may follow their lead with the Cowboys centre saying he has spoken to coach Tony Iro about representing the Cook Islands but will wait until the end of the NRL season before making a final decision.

“I’m not really too fussed on that I haven’t made my mind up with where I want to go, or play for, but I’m playing for the Cowboys at the moment and that’s all I’m focused on. I know I can play there (Cook Islands) and I know I can play for Australia as well, so I’ve got some decisions to make I guess.”

Roosters lock Victor Radley, who would have been an outside chance of surviving the Kangaroos selection cull, has declared he wants to represent England, the birthplace of his father.

The World Cup kicks off on October 15 with the men’s and women’s finals at Old Trafford in Manchester on November 19.

In the first of a series looking at each squad’s selection certainties, possibles and probables, here’s how Mal Meninga’s Australian squad is shaping up.

WOLLONGONG, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 25: (L-R) Jake Trbojevic of Australia, James Tedesco of Australia and Daly Cherry-Evans of Australia celebrate a try during the International Rugby League Test Match between the Australian Kangaroos and the New Zealand Kiwis at WIN Stadium on October 25, 2019 in Wollongong, Australia. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

Certainties

There are not that many Australian players who you could say will definitely be wearing the green and gold, barring injury, in October.

James Tedesco is a shoo-in to be fullback and will likely assume the captaincy following the retirement of Boyd Cordner ahead of Daly Cherry-Evans.

Nathan Cleary and Cameron Munster will join DCE as the three main halves options with Ben Hunt certain to also be in the squad to cover hooker as well.

Back-rowers Cameron Murray, Kurt Capewell and Isaah Yeo would need to be injured or have a dramatic drop in form to miss out while Payne Haas is the only prop who is an automatic selection.

James Tedesco scores a try for the Australian Kangaroos

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Probables 

Tino Fa’asuamaleaui earlier this year said his preference was to represent Australia ahead of Samoa at the World Cup and given his strong form for Queensland in the Origin arena, he is more than likely to get the nod as one of the middle forwards. 

Patrick Carrigan as the Wally Lewis Medallist should be in Australia’s 24 based on his on-field performances, particularly for Queensland, but the Broncos forward’s four-game ban for a hip-drop tackle late in the season could hurt his chances.

Holmes and fellow Maroons centre Dane Gagai are proven big-game performers, as is Rabbitohs star Latrell Mitchell, who missed Origin with injury, so it’d be a surprise if those three are not in the final squad. Holmes, who has scored 17 tries in 13 matches for Australia and has a Cook Islands mother and New Zealand father, wants to delay making a decision until the end of the NRL season.

Damien Cook

Damien Cook of Australia (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Possibles

That leaves 11 spots open for a pair of hookers, a few outside backs and a bunch of back-up forwards. 

Harry Grant, Api Koroisau and Damien Cook are fighting it out for the two dummy-half roles – Cook is the incumbent but Koroisau and Grant had better Origin campaigns.

With all three likely to be featuring in the finals, end-of-season form will be the deciding factor. Koroisau has previously represented Fiji, but has put his hand up for the Kangaroos, if picked.

If Mitchell and Gagai are the starting centres, Holmes will be on one wing with Josh Addo-Carr likely to get the other berth with Tupou and To’o representing their Pacific heritage. 

The back-up centre berth is set to come down to a battle between Stephen Crichton, Matt Burton, Jack Wighton and Campbell Graham – it’s another area where Meninga does not have a lot of eligible players in form pressing for selection.

Crichton might yet follow the lead of his Panthers teammates To’o and Jarome Luai by opting for Samoa, while Brisbane’s Kotoni Staggs and Cronulla’s Sioisifa Talakai, both of whom played Origin this year for NSW, will represent Tonga at the World Cup.

Maroons wingers Selwyn Cobbo, Corey Oates and Xavier Coates are in the frame along with Cowboys speedster Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow and Roosters prodigy Joseph Suaalii.

Coates was born in Port Moresby and most recently represented the Kumuls, but might find a Kangaroo call-up too hard to turn down. If not picked, Suaalii would surely be in the running for a Samoa jersey although his stocks are rising for Australian selection.

Harry Grant of the Maroons looks on during game one of the 2021 State of Origin series.

(Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Mitchell also provides back-up for Tedesco but Meninga will likely select another specialist fullback – Kalyn Ponga’s future is clouded due to repeated concussions this season and if Trbojevic is still sidelined, the door could be open for Eels skipper Clint Gutherson, Penrith’s Dylan Edwards or Warriors rising star Reece Walsh to get their first national call-up.

Ponga is all but certain to sit out Newcastle’s final four matches but is hopeful of being cleared to return to action in October, if selected by the Kangaroos.

In the pack, the ability to switch between the edge and middle forward roles will help the likes of Angus Crichton and Liam Martin.

Jake Trbojevic is considered a fair chance of getting a spot as a middle option along with Junior Paulo although the Eels veteran is tipped to make himself available for Samoa.

Lindsay Collins, Jai Arrow, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Jordan McLean and Daniel and Jacob Saifiti could be other options up front – though RCG and the Saifitis are Fiji-eligible and yet to make a public decision.

North Queensland young gun Jeremiah Nanai is also weighing up whether to commit to Samoa but he is rated a decent chance of getting a second-rower berth with the Kangaroos while Cowboys teammate Reuben Cotter could also come into calculations after overcoming his hamstring injury. 

Predicted Kangaroos squad

1 James Tedesco
2 Josh Addo-Carr
3 Dane Gagai
4 Latrell Mitchell
5 Valentine Holmes
6 Cameron Munster
7 Nathan Cleary
8 Payne Haas
9 Ben Hunt
10 Tino Fa’asuamaleaui 
11 Cameron Murray
12 Kurt Capewell
13 Isaah Yeo
14 Harry Grant
15 Patrick Carrigan
16 Angus Crichton
17 Jake Trbojevic
18 Daly Cherry-Evans
19 Junior Paulo/Lindsay Collins
20 Jeremiah Nanai/Jai Arrow
21 Damien Cook/Api Koroisau
22 Kalyn Ponga/Joseph Suaalii
23 Liam Martin/Reuben Cotter
24 Matt Burton/Jack Wighton





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