2020 has seen NRL clubs blood a huge number of young guys. This is the next generation of rugby league in Australia – guys born in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
With some big potential exclusions for this year’s mid-season test, including superstars Johnathan Thurston, Matt Scott and Greg Inglis, coach Mal Meninga will have his work cut out for him when choosing a team with enough strike power to defeat the Kiwis.
There are, however, plenty of up-and-comers who deserve a shot in the green and gold, so here’s my pick for the Kangaroos 17 ahead of today’s official announcement.
Fullback: Darius Boyd (Broncos)
You can’t fault Boyd’s record at test level, with 22 wins from 22 appearances. With Billy Slater only just returning from injury, James Tedesco and Matt Moylan in patchy form and Greg Inglis out for the year, it’s only logical to have the Broncos captain take the custodian spot.
Not only does he have a great record, but his experience and all-round playing style will be great for the two young blokes I’ve listed next.
Wingers: Tom Trbojevic (Sea Eagles) and Valentine Holmes (Sharks)
Another position ravaged by injury and poor form, I’m going for youngsters Tom Trbojevic and Valentine Holmes. The latter has already donned the green and gold and deserves another shot after a fine showing in last year’s Four Nations tournament.
Young Trbojevic has been a sensation for Manly at fullback, and easing him into rep footy on the wing is definitely the way to go. He may have a few errors in him, but he has size, power and speed to burn. These two are the future of Australia.
Centres: Jarrod Croker and Joey Leilua (Raiders)
Jarrod Croker is one of those players who deserves to play rep footy and hasn’t yet, and with the absence of Greg Inglis at left centre, I think he’s the man for the job. Some will argue that Josh Dugan and Blake Ferguson are better options, but they’re better at fullback and on the wing respectively and neither has shown the form Croker has over the past 18 months – and let’s not forget he has a sniper of a boot, too.
His club teammate and barnstorming centre Joey Leilua is my pick to fill the right-centre position. Again the likes of Will Chambers and Jack Bird are favourites, but I just love Leilua’s damaging running and offloads, and if he can get any away to his winger, watch out.
Halves: James Maloney (Sharks) and Cooper Cronk (Storm)
Definitely an odd-couple pairing, these two are noted to have a rocky relationship when they come against each other on the field. Their similarities, however, come in their quality, and with Johnathan Thurston possibly out for this game, I think James Maloney definitely deserves to be next in line. The premiership-winning five-eighth has all the qualities to be a success at test level: tenacity, a great running game, kicking abilities and a brilliant work rate under pressure.
As for Cooper Cronk, what can I say? He’s the best halfback in the competition and will guide any team he’s in superbly.
Props: Aaron Woods (Tigers) and Paul Vaughan (Dragons)
The absence of Matt Scott made the decision of prop rotation really difficult. I’m not the biggest fan of Aaron Woods, but he’s been there and done that at test level and is in the prime of his career, and there isn’t quite anyone else more experienced for the job than him. He’ll do a good job– he doesn’t seem to get fazed by anyone or anything.
His engine room pal for mine is Dragons standout Paul Vaughan, who has been the front-running prop in the competition thus far. Vaughan’s passionate runs and work rate is fast putting him in contention for a spot in the Blues line-up, and what better way to reward that form than to put him in the mid-season test side.
Hooker: Cameron Smith (Storm)
There’s not much to be said here. Smith is the best hooker available, he’s national captain, and he’ll probably put in another man-of-the-match performance against the Kiwis. He’s simply the best.
Second-rowers: Boyd Cordner (Roosters) and Matt Gillett (Broncos)
These are two dynamic backrowers who will be in the side for many years to come. Cordner’s line running is the best in the competition and his work rate is phenomenal. His partner in crime, Matt Gillett, has a great engine, knows how to put on a hit and has a great overall game. This is definitely the strongest part of the side.
Lock: Tyson Frizell (Dragons)
Another reason the Dragons are going so well, Frizell burst onto the rep scene last year playing for both NSW and Australia, and with Corey Parker and Paul Gallen not in contention anymore, I went for this dynamic backrower.
Capable of playing both second row and lock, I decided to put him at the back of the scrum, where the team can get some good use out of his high work rate – but no matter where he plays, you know he’s going to put in.
Bench: Michael Morgan (Cowboys), Shannon Boyd (Raiders), Andrew Fifita (Sharks), Josh Papalii (Raiders)
The whole bench has already played at test level, so their inclusion needs little explanation.
Michael Morgan is versatile enough to play fullback, in the halves and in the back row, and he has the experience to come into a game and follow instructions.
Shannon Boyd, Andrew Fifita and Josh Papalii add great aggression and impact off the bench. With Boyd’s destructive runs, Fifita’s ball playing and X-factor and Papalii’s power, they are definitely a destructive trio.
So what do you think of my test team? Can they beat the Kiwis, or are they missing too much firepower? Let me know your thoughts in the comments, and let’s see how close we get to the official side.