Australia’s 30-0 drubbing at the hands of New Zealand in the Pacific Championships final may not be the final chapter in James Tedesco’s representative career but it should be.
The Kangaroos captain is still a very fine player and coach Mal Meninga has been loyal to his veteran fullback but at some point the reality of the situation needs to be recognised.
Tedesco is no longer a guaranteed start in the NSW or Australian teams and if either side was picked on form in 2024, he is unlikely to be in the No.1 jersey unless he dramatically reverses the decline of the past couple of seasons.
The 30-point humiliation in Auckland underlines how Australia cannot take for granted their place at the top of the international rugby league pecking order despite decades of dominance.
A plan is needed to ensure the right players are committed to Australia in the lead-up to the next World Cup in 2026 with the right captain leading from the front.
The skipper needs to be someone who is an automatic selection, has leadership experience and the respect of his peers at the elite level.
Panthers co-captain Nathan Cleary ticks all the boxes and, turning 26 next week, he is at the right age to be a long-term leader in the prime years of his career.
His Penrith counterpart Isaah Yeo and Souths skipper Cameron Murray, who were named vice-captains for last year’s World Cup campaign in the UK, would be the other candidates to succeed Tedesco for both NSW and Australia.
With Daly Cherry-Evans in the twilight of his career and behind Cleary in the pecking order anyway, the best option from Queensland as a future Kangaroos captain is Patrick Carrigan.
He’s had a taste of leading the Broncos and appears the next in line at the Maroons when DCE exits the Origin arena.
Tedesco has had an unusual representative career – he got his first taste with Italy at the 2013 World Cup back when he was a Wests Tigers cub with promise.
He was unable to break into the squad for the Cup on home soil four years later in his final year at the Tigers because Billy Slater had a stranglehold on the No.1 jersey.
After a belated green and gold debut in 2018, his Kangaroos days were interrupted by the near three-year halt to internationals due to the pandemic.
His form and leadership were essential to the World Cup win last year and despite not being at his best for the Roosters this season he deserved another crack at Test level for the Pacific Championships despite plenty of calls for Penrith’s Dylan Edwards to get the nod.
Edwards ended up playing all three Tests out of position on the wing and would be a frontrunner to replace Tedesco in the NSW and Australian sides if the experienced Rooster retires from rep footy or gets tapped on the shoulder.
But if Latrell Mitchell and Tom Trbojevic are back to full fitness next season, they would also be in the mix for what would be their first sky-blue No.1 jersey after a combined 17 Origins in recent seasons being shunted to centre or the wing.
As for the Australian gig, Reece Walsh and Kalyn Ponga would also have strong claims from the Maroons corner to the fullback spot with both players coming off career-best seasons.
The flip side for Tedesco if he no longer has the representative burden is that he can concentrate fully on performing at his best for the Roosters as they enter a tricky season.
Joseph Suaalii and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves are in their last season, Luke Keary could be the same and Sam Walker needs to re-establish himself as their first-choice playmaker.
Joey Manu is off contract and no certainty to stick around with rival clubs offering squillions and Angus Crichton’s future also clouded after dalliances with rugby.
The club is basing the future of its pack around the likes of Siua Wong and Terrell May supporting Test prop Lindsay Collins, Victor Radley and Brandon Smith with the latter duo also needing to get back to peak form in 2024 after taking a step back last season.
Tedesco stepping aside would also give the Kangaroos a chance to reboot.
Meninga is set to be extended as Kangaroos coach through until the next World Cup and with 25 Tests under his belt, he would likely surpass Chris Anderson (28), Harry Bath and Clive Churchill (29) and Don Furner and Tim Sheens (31), to trail only Frank Stanton (40) and Bob Fulton (75) as the coaches with the most matches at the helm.
DCE will be 35 before the start of the next NRL season while hooker Ben Hunt, 33, may have also played his last Test for the Kangaroos.
Meninga needs fresh blood in his side but also to lock in players who are committed to the team rather than switching back and forth from a heritage nation like Murray Taulagi and Kotoni Staggs have done in recent years.
The Kangaroos are becoming like Team USA in men’s basketball, falling short of expectations because of players making themselves unavailable at the last minute.
They should select an extended squad next season of players who pledge their commitment through until the World Cup rather than having to wait until a few weeks before the Tests start each October to find out which players are opting to make themselves available.
There is nothing wrong with choosing another nation if a player has dual eligibility but switching jerseys year to year is a bad look for everyone involved and damages the already porous credibility of international rugby league.
And the tier-two nations would hopefully benefit from an influx of players following the lead of Jason Taumalolo, Stephen Crichton, Brian To’o, Jarome Luai and Josh Papalii who have committed to their ancestral islands rather than adding to Australia’s peerless depth.