Boyd Cordner has been retained as captain in a Kangaroos merit team that features emerging NRL premiership-winning stars Tino Fa’asumaleaui and Ryan Papenhuyzen.
The Melbourne pair were joined by four Storm teammates – Christian Welch, Josh Addo-Carr, Cameron Munster and Felise Kaufusi – in the honorary outfit announced on Monday.
The final squad was deemed the best 17 from players selected for the end-of-season State of Origin squads.
Cordner’s Origin series lasted just one game before concussion again kept him on the sidelines, while injury and then non-selection meant Clive Churchill Medallist Papenhuyzen never made his anticipated Origin debut and South Sydney lock Cameron Murray was picked despite lasting just seconds in his lone appearance.
Despite the Blues’ loss, Penrith halfback Nathan Cleary’s efforts in guiding the Panthers to the NRL grand final were enough to unseat Test incumbent and victorious Maroons captain Daly Cherry-Evans for the No.7 jersey ahead of next year’s World Cup.
Canberra’s Dally M Medal winner Jack Wighton was picked in the centres while Daniel Tupou was named on the wing after a dominant year with Cordner’s Sydney Roosters.
Cleary, Welsh, Papenhuyzen, bench forward Angus Crichton and Fa’asumaleaui were the five uncapped players to be selected.
“There is no greater honour in rugby league than representing your country, and while the pandemic has stopped the Kangaroos from playing this year, it is still incredibly important for the (Australian Rugby League) Commission to acknowledge the best 17 from the Origin series,” ARLC chairman Peter V’landys said.
“This merit team includes some of the most exciting young players in the competition who I’m sure will be part of the Gallagher Kangaroos program for many years.
“Players like Nathan Cleary and Ryan Papenhuyzen bring people to our games.
“They (Origin players) sacrificed more than anyone in our game (by moving from a club bubble to an Origin bubble) to ensure we completed an entire schedule.
“I want to say thank you for those sacrifices.”
Kangaroos merit team
1. James Tedesco, 2. Josh Addo-Carr, 3. Dane Gagai, 4. Jack Wighton, 5. Daniel Tupou, 6. Cameron Munster, 7. Nathan Cleary, 8. Josh Papalii, 9. Damien Cook, 10. Christian Welch, 11. Boyd Cordner (captain), 12. Felise Kaufusi, 13. Cameron Murray, 14. Ryan Papenhuyzen, 15. Payne Haas, 16. Angus Crichton, 17. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui.