NSW’s State of Origin victory has led to dominance in a Kangaroos merit team picked by Australian selectors from performances in the interstate series.
The Australia Kangaroos will take on the New Zealand Kiwis this weekend with three debutants filling three of the four spine positions.
James Tedesco at fullback and Damian Cook at hooker have represented at Origin level, while Luke Keary at five-eighth has parlayed his strong season and finals form straight into a Test.
It is hard to argue with the selectors, who have largely picked in-form players. Mal Meninga, with only a short time to work with the side, will look to their strengths and establish some combinations.
In the key positions of 1, 6, 7 and 9 he will look to capitalise on the human pinball feats of Tedesco as he hits and bounces away from would-be defenders. His ability to twist and turn at high speed and break tackles (the most in the NRL in 2018) will cause the Kiwis plenty of problems, as he will his workload as he works his way out from the back and chimes into the attacking line.
He sits in the top five of all NRL players for all runs. A former Australian schoolboys representative, Tedesco has fought back from serious knee injuries in 2012 and 2014 to claim a jersey he seemed destined to wear.
He not only shares an eerily similar playing style with former Rooster Anthony Minichiello but they are both premiership winners at Bondi and have represented Italy at international level.
Cook, who has a beach-sprint background, is dynamic from dummy half and will look to exploit any lazy ruck defenders with his lightning pace. He averages over 100 metres per game. He is super-efficient and is certain to have his forwards hitting the advantage line at speed.
The likes of David Klemmer, Tyson Frizell and Boyd Cordner are no strangers to hitting the line hard and often. After making his debut in 2013, Cook, so often a second stringer at club land, continues his meteoritic rise and will take the lead role, prove the doubters wrong and fulfil a lifelong dream he has worked hard for.
Keary is a cool head who has shown himself to be comfortable as a key player in the Roosters’ systems-based approach. This season he was second only to Jonathan Thurston with 21 try assists. He is a versatile half and operates with plenty of energy, control and confidence.
A dual premiership player and Clive Churchill winner, Keary has been thrust into the spotlight after his grand final performance. One thing is for sure he will not be overawed with the situation.
Meninga has handed over the keys to Manly’s Daly Cherry-Evans to steer the side around the park. He was one of the best in a tune-up representing the PM’s 13 versus Papua New Guinea on Saturday. Minus their core group of Thurston, Cameron Smith, Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and in disappointing circumstances Greg Inglis, Meninga sees it as “a changing of the guard”.
Cherry-Evans no stranger to controversy himself returns to wear the green and gold after a four-year absence. Love him or hate him, he was a standout in Origin 3 and, along with the Trbojevic brothers, was one of the few shining lights during a gloomy season for the Sea Eagles.
His ball-playing skills (15 try assists and 17 line break assists), solid kicking game – including his ability to nail a 40-20 – and off-the-cuff attacking plays will see him slice through at times and hit his outside men with an early ball.
There are likely to be some early clunky phases to Australia’s game play and the possibility of some poor last-tackle options as they get used to who is calling the shots. We will not see the spine at their collective finest, but some flashes of brilliance on the back of a more-than-capable forward pack should pilot them to a win.
The individual brilliance of Valentine Holmes (26 line breaks and 22 Tries), Tom Trbojevic and Latrell Mitchell could also be crucial as a settling influence early. The new spine will be more comfortable operating in front rather than chasing points.