We all knew there would be a few newcomers in the Kangaroos’ Four Nations squad following the raft of injury and fatigue withdrawals amongst the pool of Test regulars and strong selection contenders. But nothing could have prepared the rugby league public for the inclusion of so many left-field bolters in Tim Sheens’ 24-man squad – including a staggering 10 debutants.
The shock selections were headlined by Sione Mata’utia, Alex Johnston and David Klemmer. The 18-year-old Mata’utia has played just seven NRL games for Newcastle and will be Australia’s youngest-ever international if he plays during the tournament; Johnston, 19, only debuted in Round 8 this year, but nabbed a spot after scoring an outrageous 21 tries in just 18 games and featuring in Souths’ grand final triumph; and 20-year-old Canterbury prop Klemmer is poised to become the first player to represent Australia without starting an NRL game, making 27 interchange appearances over the last two seasons before ousting the likes of Jacob Lillyman, Aiden Tolman, Brenton Lawrence and Josh McGuire for a Kangaroos berth.
Meanwhile, Ben Hunt and Dylan Walker, who only turned 20 the day after Souths’ preliminary final win, would have been considered rank outsiders at the start of 2014 to push for a spot, but forced their way in following brilliant NRL campaigns respectively.
Penrith fullback Matt Moylan is likely to become the 11th first-time Kangaroo in the squad, tipped to replace US-bound Jarryd Hayne after just a season and a half of first grade; Moylan was an unlucky omission from the initial squad.
New Zealand fans must be feeling rather smug after the media, pundits and the public in Australia ridiculed the injury-ravaged side the Kiwis named for May’s trans-Tasman Test, which included Siliva Havili (two NRL games), Peta Hiku (21 NRL games), Isaac John (28 NRL games), Martin Taupau (29 NRL games), Tohu Harris (33 NRL games) and Ben Henry (34 NRL games).
The Book of NRL Lists, by Commentary Box Sports’ own Will Evans and Rugby League journalist Nick Tedeschi and published in September by Slattery Media Group, is a treasure trove of the best, worst and most obscure players, matches and moments in the code’s history – 200-plus passionately-compiled top 5s, 10s and 20s about everything rugby league, packed into 672 pages.
To commemorate arguably the most stunning Kangaroos squad ever named, we have an exclusive excerpt from The Book of NRL Lists – the top 10 rugby league international bolters.
Will confirmed that had The Book of NRL Lists been compiled at the end of the 2014 season, Mata’utia, Klemmer and Havili would have been certainties for top-10 inclusion, while Johnston, Hunt, John and Taupau would have gone very close – with Mata’utia knocking off Starling from the No.1 spot.
TOP 10 RUGBY LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL BOLTERS
1. Geoff Starling
Teenage centre Starling was picked for Australia’s short tour of New Zealand in 1971 after only a handful of first grade appearances for Balmain. He played both minor matches across the Tasman, becoming Australia’s youngest-ever representative at 18 years and 178 days. Starling made the first of 11 Test appearances the following season and toured with the 1973 Kangaroos, but a mystery illness – later diagnosed as Addison’s disease – halted his progress soon after and prematurely ended his career.
2. Brad Godden
Godden had made just four first grade appearances prior to 1992, but his stellar performances at fullback in Newcastle’s charge to a maiden finals series caught the attention of the national selectors. The 23-year-old contentiously ousted Grand Final custodians Michael Potter and Julian O’Neill for a place in Australia’s World Cup final tour squad at the end of the year. He played in warm-up matches against Huddersfield and Sheffield, but Tim Brasher was preferred in the No.1 for the showdown with Great Britain and Godden never featured in representative football again.
3. Jim Lisle
Rugby Union convert Lisle’s ascension to dual international status was preposterously fast. A hamstring injury delayed the four-Test Wallaby’s start to his tenure with South Sydney in 1962, but after just one match for his new club, he was selected to debut for NSW and subsequently received a call-up to play five-eighth in the dead-rubber third Ashes Test. Lisle’s League career was chequered by injury, but he toured with the 1963-64 Kangaroos, made the last of six Test appearances and captained Souths to a Grand Final in ’65, and won a premiership with the Rabbitohs in ’67.
4. Kerry Boustead
Innisfail winger Boustead became just the second 18-year-old to play Test football for Australia in 1978, coming from nowhere to claim a spot on the flank for the series against New Zealand after starring in Queensland’s interstate series loss. The diminutive flyer scored four tries in the three Tests against the Kiwis – debuting aged 18 years and 316 days – before carving out a career as one of the greatest-ever wingers. Boustead finished with 15 tries in 25 Test appearances.
5. Brad Fittler
Penrith prodigy ‘Freddy’ Fittler became the first player to graduate to full international honours a year after representing Australian Schoolboys. The centre/five-eighth’s outstanding finals performances saw him oust the likes of Rookie of the Year Jason Martin for a spot in the 1990 Kangaroo Tour squad, becoming the youngest-ever Australian player to tour Britain and France at 18 years and 229 days. Fittler scored eight tries in eight minor tour matches, before making the first of 40 Test appearances the following season against PNG while still a teenager.
6. Krisnan Inu
Even the most scrupulous of New Zealand Rugby League fans would have been puzzled when the Kiwi line-up for the 2007 trans-Tasman Test was announced. The player named in the perpetually troublesome fullback spot was Parramatta’s Krisnan Inu, a veteran of one NRL match – as a centre. The unknown 20-year-old was nevertheless outstanding on debut, arguably the Kiwis’ best in a disappointing 30-6 loss in Brisbane, while he went on to become one of the season’s standout rookies after cementing a permanent role in the Eels’ backline.
7. Steve Morris
‘Slippery’ became the last player to represent Australia in Test football from a NSW country club when he was selected to play halfback against New Zealand in 1978. The 21-year-old Dapto whippet had only recently debuted for NSW before featuring in the 24-2 first Test defeat of the Kiwis, but was replaced by Queenslander Greg Oliphant for the second encounter and was left out of the Kangaroo Tour squad at the end of the year. Morris won a premiership with St George in ’79 and later made a successful transition to the wing, but did not rise above NSW Origin status during the remainder of his career.
8. Braith Anasta
Bulldogs five-eighth Anasta became the first player to represent the Junior Kangaroos and the senior Australian Test side in the same season. He skippered the Junior Kangaroos midway through 2001 before claiming Dally M Rookie of the Year honours and winning selection in the Kangaroo Tour squad at year’s end. The 19-year-old came off the bench in all four Tests against PNG and Great Britain. Although he was a NSW regular and one of the NRL’s most prominent playmakers, Anasta never represented his country again.
9. Trent Waterhouse
Premiership success often yields a Test bolter, and Penrith’s surprise capture of the 2003 title catapulted backrower Trent Waterhouse into the representative limelight. Virtually unknown at the start of the year and a veteran of just 30 NRL matches (including only five starts), Waterhouse was selected in the Kangaroo Tour squad at the end of ’03. The 22-year-old came off the bench in all three Tests of the injury-hit Australian side’s remarkable Ashes whitewash of Great Britain, beginning an international career that stretched to 2009 and garnered 11 Test appearances.
10. Israel Folau
At the end of a spectacular debut NRL season that included a Grand Final victory with Melbourne and a club record 21 tries, Folau was selected in the Junior Kangaroos side to take on the Junior Kiwis at the end of the season. But when Justin Hodges pulled out of the senior Kangaroos side with injury, the rookie was promoted from the curtain-raiser to the Test arena, becoming the youngest player in Australian Test history at 18 years and 194 days. Folau scored two tries in the record 58-0 drubbing of New Zealand in Wellington.
The Book of NRL Lists, by Will Evans and Nick Tedeschi, is on sale now at all leading bookstores and department stores, or online through Slattery Media Group (RRP: $39.95).