NRL CEO Todd Greenberg, ARLC Chairman John Grant and Australian coach Mal Meninga announced the Kangaroos’ squad for the one-off Test against the Kiwis in Perth and the Four Nations tour – and wasn’t it an eventful presser!
Greenberg kicked off proceedings by revealing the selectors were instructed to overlook Andrew Fifita and Semi Radradra due to off-field concerns, before Grant read out a team containing seven debutants and a few shock omissions.
KANGAROOS SQUAD: Cameron Smith (c), Darius Boyd, Shannon Boyd, Boyd Cordner, Cooper Cronk, Josh Dugan, Blake Ferguson, Jake Friend, Tyson Frizell, Matt Gillett, Valentine Holmes, Greg Inglis, David Klemmer, James Maloney, Josh Mansour, Trent Merrin, Michael Morgan, Matt Moylan, Justin O’Neill, Josh Papalii, Matt Scott, Sam Thaiday, Johnathan Thurston, Aaron Woods.
- ‘Bad boys’ not considered
The NRL has taken a strong stand against off-field behaviour in order to protect the Kangaroos’ culture, advising coach Mal Meninga and selectors Darren Lockyer and Bob Fulton not to consider Andrew Fifita and Semi Radradra.
The decision to blacklist Fifita for the time being after his public support of one-punch killer Kieran Loveridge was an admirable one from Todd Greenberg and the NRL brass, but it begs the question as to why the dynamic prop – who was controversially overlooked for the Clive Churchill Medal after scoring the winning try in the grand final – wasn’t rubbed out of the finals series.
The stance against Radradra’s selection raised a few more eyebrows, with Greenberg stating the Parramatta winger – a contentious pick to debut in the Anzac Test – was ruled out due to his upcoming court case on domestic violence charges.
In most cases, the league takes an ‘innocent till proven guilty’ position, but Greenberg said the NRL didn’t want to risk the case becoming a distraction for player or team while on tour. There will be few traditionalists upset that the polarising duo won’t be donning the Australian jumper this spring.
— The NRL Footy Show (@NRLFootyShow) 4 October 2016
- Veterans and incumbents overlooked
As was widely tipped, modern greats Corey Parker and Paul Gallen were left out – despite outstanding seasons at club and rep level – as Meninga and co. look towards the 2017 World Cup.
It’s understandable in theory, and the Kangaroos do have some quality backrow depth. But surely these two tremendous servants deserved a genuine farewell, particularly when they are almost always among the best in green and gold.
Gallen was man-of-the-match in this year’s Anzac Test, while Parker has been arguably the only forward in the game more valuable than the Sharks skipper over the past five or six seasons. Meninga may regret overlooking the durable workhorses if the ’Roos suffer a confidence-knocking loss in England.
Perhaps more surprising, though, is the absence of James Tamou and Josh McGuire, who both featured in the May victory over the Kiwis. Both players were not considered due to form, rather than injury – a tough call considering David Klemmer managed to win a spot despite a so-so campaign for the middling Bulldogs.
— Nine News Brisbane (@9NewsBrisbane) 4 October 2016
- Debutants galore
Canberra prop Shannon Boyd was the popular bolter in the Kangaroos’ squad, capping a breakout year for the 24-year-old.
Matt Moylan and Tyson Frizell won places after eye-catching debut campaigns for NSW earlier this year. Penrith captain Moylan, who was chosen in the 2014 Four Nations squad but did not play a match, made up some ground on James Tedesco late in the season to snare the spot as Darius Boyd’s fullback deputy, while his ability to cover the halves helped his cause.
James Maloney and Valentine Holmes have ridden the Sharks’ charge to premiership glory into the Australian side. The 30-year-old Maloney’s time looked to have passed, but a recall to the NSW side and his role as Cronulla’s linchpin pitched him into contention with few other in-form halves to choose from.
Holmes’ call-up caps a rollercoaster year that began with a 12-month Origin ban after breaking curfew during Emerging Maroons camp, but a superb grand final performance – at the end of a record-equalling 19-try season for the Sharks – sealed the wing spot vacated by Radradra.
Jake Friend is set to become the first specialist hooker other than Cameron Smith and Robbie Farah to represent Australia in more than decade, with the Noosa product – stuck behind Smith for a Queensland Origin call-up – winning a well-deserved call-up at the age of 26.
North Queensland’s Justin O’Neill, who enjoyed a fine debut series for the Maroons this year, was perhaps the biggest surprise, ousting a host of outside-back candidates for a green-and-gold jumper.
— Canberra Raiders (@RaidersCanberra) 4 October 2016
- Tedesco and Graham headline unlucky omissions
Two omissions stuck out like the proverbial dog’s balls: James Tedesco and Wade Graham. The pair debuted together in Origin III and were outstanding – as they have been all season for their clubs.
Tedesco’s lack of versatility compared to Matt Moylan, along with a late-season injury and the Tigers’ failure to reach the finals, counted against him. Graham’s absence is harder to cop, however, with the ball-playing backrower playing an integral role in the Sharks’ premiership success.
And Josh Jackson, a NSW Origin regular who played two Tests for Australia in 2014, couldn’t have done much more this season to get a recall to the national squad.
Cronulla teammate Jack Bird was unfortunate, too, given he covers centre, five-eighth, backrow and even fullback, but Michael Morgan and Moylan had the utility-type role covered.
Shannon Boyd’s selection is certainly one of the squad’s feelgood stories, but it also denied the claims of arguably better-credentialed props, most notably Ryan James, Matt Prior and Raiders teammate Junior Paulo – not to mention dumped duo McGuire and Tamou. Jake Trbojevic, who can cover lock and prop, must also have gone close.
Likewise, O’Neill’s selection came at the expense of several highly regarded outside-backs, including Queensland teammates Corey Oates and Dane Gagai, veteran tryscoring machine Brett Morris, and Bird.
But arguably the stiffest to miss out was Storm centre Will Chambers, who made a tryscoring debut in last year’s Anzac Test before being ruled out of the rep schedule earlier this year by injury. He had a big second half in the grand final and is a far better centre than right-side incumbent Josh Dugan.
— Chris Warren (@ChrisWarreNRL) 4 October 2016
- Injuries cost Leilua and Croker
Meninga indicated that injuries suffered by Canberra duo Joey Leilua and Jarrod Croker in the preliminary final loss to Melbourne counted against them at the selection table – and that can be the only explanation for their absence in favour of O’Neill, or Dugan and Ferguson, for that matter.
Leilua, in particular, demanded a place in the squad thanks to his blockbusting form. Imagine him on the right edge and Inglis on the left…
It’s somewhat understandable not wanting to take two players with injury niggles that may not come right until midway through the tour, but again, O’Neill’s selection does have the slight stench of interstate politicking.
— WorldNews_net (@worldnews_net) 4 October 2016
Likely Test squad: D. Boyd, Mansour, Inglis, Dugan, Ferguson, Thurston, Cronk, Scott, Smith (c), Woods, Gillett, Thaiday, Merrin. Int: Morgan, Papalii, Cordner, S. Boyd.