Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga and selectors Laurie Daley and Darren Lockyer have thrown international experience out the window in picking the team for the test against New Zealand. With the representative retirements of key players Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk, Johnathan Thurston and Billy Slater, and with Greg Inglis suspended, the Australian team will contain a number of debutants and some very new combinations.
The spine of the team will feature three players making their Australian debut in Damien Cook, Luke Keary and James Tedesco, with Daly Cherry-Evans the only veteran in the key playmaking positions – and his last test cap was in 2014. Tom Trbojevic will also debut, playing out of position at centre to replace Inglis. The other centre, Latrell Mitchell, will also debut.
All five debutants are in red hot form, with Cook, Tedesco, Trbojevic and Mitchell all starring in NSW’s State of Origin victory, and Keary winning the Clive Churchill medal for best on ground in the NRL grand final. His teammates Tedesco and Mitchell also starred in that match.
Even discounting the forced changes Meninga’s famous “loyalty” policy as Queensland coach has been thrown out the window. Josh Dugan is out of favour in representative football circles, while Will Chambers and Trent Merrin have also been left out.
Only 6 players in the starting 13 were involved in Australia’s Rugby League World Cup win last year, although Tedesco played for Italy in that competition. Despite the huge player turnover, every single player in the Australian team has had a standout season, and a lot of good players missed out. 10 of the 17 named for the New Zealand game are New South Welshmen, and 12 of the 19 man squad, in a clear sign that State of Origin form is being rewarded.
Origin winning half Nathan Cleary will feel unlucky to have missed out, especially with Cameron Munster withdrawing late from the squad. However, Cherry-Evans was outstanding in his return from Queensland exile for game 3, proving to be the difference in that match. He also, along with the Trbojevic brothers, had a strong year in a poor team for Manly. Keary was the form playmaker in the NRL by the end of the season, and thoroughly deserves his spot as well.
Despite the huge player turnover for the Kangaroos this year they will be heavy favourites against the Kiwis in Auckland.