Mal Meninga’s loyalty and respect for incumbent No.1 James Tedesco has seen the Dally M medallist Kalyn Ponga miss out on Kangaroos selection.
Reece Walsh’s form for the Broncos also wasn’t enough to land a spot in the 21-man squad, while Dylan Edwards’ lack of versatility is said to have cost him with Meninga not wanting to pick players out of position.
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“We’ve gone with specialists,” he said.
“This is only a short campaign, we’ve only got seven days off the back of the grand final… so we’ve got to get those combinations going and the best way to do that is to have players playing in their rightful positions.
“That helps the cohesion and preparation.”
‘Surprised’ Mal reveals Latrell omission | 01:13
Despite Walsh’s omission, the Broncos were big winners amid their first grand final appearance since 2015 with a total of five players selected — three of those set to make their debut.
Valentine Holmes and Josh Addo-Carr could be considered winners too.
Holmes is set to cop a one-game suspension after posting a photo of himself on social media holding a bag with a white substance in it, while an incident in the Koori Knockout involving Addo-Carr is being investigated by the NRL Integrity Unit.
Here are the biggest winners and losers following the squad announcement.
The biggest question mark heading into the Pacific Championships was over who would wear the No.1 jersey. James Tedesco was the incumbent fullback and captain but even he admitted on the Fox League Podcast his season was “not the best.” Kalyn Ponga won the Dally M, Reece Walsh’s form took the Broncos to their first grand final since 2015 and Dylan Edwards won his third straight premiership with the Panthers, but ultimately Meninga stuck with Tedesco, saying on Tuesday “he’s a great ambassador for our game and great player.” The Roosters star said he is “stoked to get another opportunity” and “really grateful” that Meninga “showed faith” in him.
He hasn’t played since July and will miss the first Test but Valentine Holmes has still landed a spot in the 21-man squad. Holmes missed the Cowboys’ final four rounds of the season due to a careless high tackle suspension and is now facing a fresh ban after posting a photo of himself on social media with a bag in his mouth that contained a white substance. ARLC chair Peter V’landys revealed at Tuesday’s press conference that Holmes will receive a one-game suspension for the incident, ruling him out of the Kangaroos’ first Test on October 14. But that wasn’t enough to deter Meninga from leaving the star centre out. “He’s part of the squad, which means he gets an opportunity to train with the squad,” Meninga said. “I think it’s important that he does that because he hasn’t played for a while… so just to have him part of the squad and training with the squad, getting back to that rugby league environment is going to be good for him.”
Another interesting selection was Josh Addo-Carr, who was involved in a brawl at the Koori Knockout over the weekend. Meninga confirmed the incident is being investigated by the NRL Integrity Unit but the Bulldogs winger was selected anyway. Addo-Carr, after all, was named in the team of the tournament after his stunning World Cup campaign last year. “He’s a terrific player but his value off the field is tremendous as well, his morale is excellent,” Meninga said. “He gives me a headache with that laugh sometimes but he’s good to be around. He’s also a good leader for the Indigenous boys in our team as well so he plays a very important part.”
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The grand finalists were rewarded with a total of five players selected for Australia — including three debutants Selwyn Cobbo, Kotoni Staggs and Thomas Flegler. Cobbo earns a call-up after scoring 20 tries in 24 games this season with Meninga revealing the 21-year-old “excitement machine” was “in the picture” for the World Cup last year and said his journey is a “great story.” Meanwhile, Flegler is coming off before his best season to date and will get some international footy under his belt before joining the Dolphins. Staggs has represented Tonga previously but Meninga revealed the powerful centre “made the approach” to pledge his allegiance to Australia — something the coach is “very happy” about. Joining those three are Patrick Carrigan, who made his debut in last year’s World Cup, and Payne Haas returns after sitting out of the World Cup. “He’s a great player and it’s great to have him back in the Australian side,” Meninga said of Haas. “He’s an enormous talent being lauded at the moment as one of the best props to ever play the game — and I probably agree with that.”
After a thrilling first season with the Dolphins and scoring four tries in three games at centre for Queensland, the ‘Hammer’ will make his Kangaroos debut. Despite playing majority of his football at fullback, the 22-year-old is a proven winner in the centres at representative level. He played for Samoa in last year’s World Cup and will now get a chance to pull on the green and gold jersey.
A Dally M medal wasn’t enough to convince Meninga that Kalyn Ponga should be in the Kangaroos squad. Ponga’s incredible second half of the season spearheaded the Knights’ charge for the finals — and earnt him a narrow win over Shaun Johnson for the highest honour in the game. But Meninga stuck solid with his incumbent No.1 and skipper, Tedesco.
Like Ponga, Reece Walsh’s omission is a result of Meninga’s loyalty to his incumbent fullback. Walsh also had a career-best season, making his State of Origin debut, helping the Broncos make their first grand final appearance since 2015 and being declared by Peter V’landys as the ‘Justin Bieber’ of the NRL. Meninga said both Ponga and Walsh were “in the conversation” and added: “I know there’s always going to be debate and argument about all those young kids but their time will come.”
Buzz & Tallis argue Panthers greatness | 03:29
He might be one of the most consistent players in the game and coming off a three-peat with the Panthers, but Dylan Edwards is a victim of playing the position flushed with the most options. Or as Meninga put it, “unfortunately he’s playing in an era where there’s James Tedesco.” Edwards was last year’s Clive Churchill Medal winner and backed it up with another huge performance in Sunday’s grand final but is stuck behind Tedesco — probably Ponga and Walsh too.
The Knights centre was the first player to turn up to pre-season and his efforts over the summer shone through in his most impressive year to date. The 22-year-old missed just one game for the Knights all season, which is a career-best for him. After bagging a hat-trick in Round 18 was a shock selection to make his New South Wales debut, but he justified the call with a first-half double in Origin III. Best finished the season strong with the Knights but it wasn’t quiet enough to earn selection over the likes of Valentine Holmes, Kotoni Staggs and Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow.
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