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Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Meninga changing his mood on Test selections

The Australian Kangaroos are starting to turn on their axis with a new horizon in view.
The World Cup last year had no Johnathan Thurston (injury, then retirement) but the tournament hosts still had enough to beat England 6-0 in the final at Suncorp Stadium. Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater and Cameron Smith were all in that side.
Now 120 Test matches worth of experience from that magnificent three-some is gone.
In comes a new spine, with only one survivor from the World Cup – No.6 Cameron Munster – for the October 13 Test against New Zealand and the October 20 Test with Tonga.
Munster now has around him a new halfback in Manly skipper Daly Cherry-Evans, a new hooker in NSW Origin rake Damien Cook, and a new fullback in Blues custodian and Roosters premiership-winner James Tedesco.
Australia coach Mal Meninga is adamant he wants Tedseco and Cook to bring their own style of football to the Kangaroos and not think of themselves as trying to replicate the play of Slater and Smith. After all, that pair are two of the best Test players of all time and both Golden Boot winners.
"We'll probably play a different way with Teddy and Damien because they're such good ball runners and dangerous around the midfield," Meninga told NRL.com.
"We'll have a game plan that plays to their strengths. And it will be Daly's team, not Cooper's anymore, so we'll be playing more along the lines of how he wants to play. He's our chief organiser now.
"We'll have those conversations and the four spine members will take among themselves and from all that we'll work around it all for the game plan."
There will be a seismic shift in age, Test-match experience, and attacking set moves, on this first visit to Auckland in six years by an Australian side.
Meninga is also loosening his grip ever so slightly on his previous loyalty stance.
When at the helm of the Queensland Maroons for 10 years (2006-2016) Meninga bewildered and maybe even frustrated commentators by sticking to "the players who did the job last year for us".
He was the poster-boy for "pick and stick". But now he is leaning more towards form over incumbency.
While Meninga's spine has had an overhaul, so has his back five with only winger Valentine Holmes surviving from the World Cup final against England.
Gone are Dane Gagai, Will Chambers and Josh Dugan. Dugan has injury issues but all three players were part of the NRL finals series.
Meninga had better options. He could not overlook the Sydney Roosters' commanding 21-6 win over the Melbourne Storm in the Telstra Premiership grand final on Sunday.
So in comes Latrell Mitchell along with Tedesco. The Kiwis will also debut Roosters centre Joseph Manu.
Meninga also didn't miss the eye-catching performances of the NSW Origin side that win a first series in four years. So he's added Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Tyrone Peachey along with Cook, Tedesco, Mitchell, Boyd Cordner, David Klemmer and brothers Jake and Tom Trbojevic.
There are only seven Queenslanders among the 19-man squad.
And in keeping with the "who's in form" theme, Meninga has welcomed back Cherry-Evans (last Test was 2014) and Aaron Woods (overlooked for Origin) to his side.
"The way he's [Cherry-Evans] led the Manly side through all the drama that's happened this year and kept the team on track, kept playing really well for his club, made his return to the Queensland Origin team," Meninga said, referring to the Sea Eagles injury concerns and salary cap breaches which stunted their season.
"He's matured as a leader at Manly and will handle the position really well."
As for Woods, who went from being a Wests Tigers rep forward, to the Bulldogs and then the Sharks in just one year - losing his Blues spot along the way - Meninga had no qualms in identifying why he wanted the talented front-rower back.
"His form," Meninga said. "Certainly in a year leaving the Tigers going to the Bulldogs and then the Sharks, where he played a significant role for them in their lead-up to the finals.
"He's an incumbent as well so I know what he brings. The way he played for the Sharks for me he's in the top-four props at the moment, with Paul Vaughan out [injured]."
While Woods came off the bench in 11 of his 12 games for Cronulla in 2018, Meninga is not limiting him to that role knowing the size of the Tongan and Kiwis packs.

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