Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga has declared that State of Origin and finals form will determine the make-up of his new look World Cup squad.
With the NRL grand final just 12 days before Australia’s opening World Cup match against Fiji at Headingley on October 15, the Kangaroos will enter the tournament without having played a Test for three years and Meninga said past performances would mean little.
Since beating England 6-0 in a gripping 2017 World Cup final at Suncorp Stadium, Meninga’s men have played four Tests and won just two, with their last outing being a 16-12 loss to Tonga on November 2, 2019.
As a result, the Kangaroos have slumped to fourth on the IRL world rankings and they are on the same side of the World Cup draw as the No.1 ranked Kiwis, with the trans-Tasman rivals on course to meet in the November 11 semi-final at Elland Road.
“From my perspective I want a team that is passionate about putting the green and gold jersey on and playing for the country. I think that is really important,” said Meninga, who was in England on reconnaissance mission and to help promote the World Cup.
“We have had a theory around loyalty in the past, but it has been three years so we when we are picking a side, passion is really important, but obviously form and being the best in their positions at the time so Origin comes into play, and the [NRL] competition, and the finals series.
🇦🇺 Australia Head Coach, Mal Meninga believes fans are in for an exciting tournament with the world class talent on show at RLWC2021.
— Rugby League World Cup 2021 (@RLWC2021) July 3, 2022
“Form and confidence going into a World Cup is really important, and I think a team that deserves to be there. You just don’t give Kangaroos’ jerseys away.”
Pacific powerhouses Tonga and Samoa are on the other side of the World Cup draw and could come up against each other in the November 6 quarter-final at Warrington, unless Samoa upset England in the opening match at Newcastle’s St James Park on October 15.
The Samoan cause has been bolstered by Penrith Panthers winger Brian To’o’s decision to pledge his allegiance to the Pacific nation and he is likely to be among seven members of last year’s NRL premiership winning team in Matt Parish’s squad.
Meninga said the results of recent internationals, in which the Kiwis beat Tonga 26-6, Papua New Guinea overcame Fiji 24-14, Samoa triumphed 42-12 against Cook Islands and England downed a Combined Nations team 18-4 showed the World Cup was wide open.
“It is not only just the Australian side, there is some great talent amongst a lot of teams coming into this World Cup,” he told RLWC2021.
“I am really excited about the prospect of Tonga and Samoa coming through, Fiji is a great side and PNG just beat Fiji recently.
“You can never underestimate the English side and the New Zealand team that just won comfortably against the Tongan side has got some marvellous talent in their halves, with Jarome Hughes and Dylan Brown. There is also Joey Manu.
“They are world class players, so it is not only us. There are going to be a whole heap of teams that will have some exciting talent playing.”