Mal Meninga’s predicted 17-man Australia team for the World Cup

Given the amount of talent in the NRL, choosing a team of 17 players to represent the national side is no easy feat.

The final decision will of course land at the feet of Australia head coach Mal Meninga as he attempts to lead the Kangaroos to their third consecutive World Cup victory at the end of 2021.

Though still months away from the competition, I have selected a side that I believe Meninga will pick for Australia’s opening game of the tournament. 

1. James Tedesco

Not surprisingly, I have James Tedesco as my Kangaroos fullback. This was the easiest position to pick as Tedesco is undoubtedly the best fullback in the game. The likes of Kalyn Ponga and Ryan Papenhuyzen would be great alternatives at the back for Australia, but expect to see Tedesco in the number one jersey at the World Cup at the end of the year.

2. Josh Addo-Carr

Another player that I am hugely confident will appear for the Kangaroos at the World Cup is Melbourne winger Josh Addo-Carr. Over the last few years, Addo-Carr’s natural speed and try-scoring ability have proved difficult to handle for all NRL defences, and there is no reason to believe that will change any time soon.

3. Latrell Mitchell

Despite now playing at fullback for the South Sydney Rabbitohs, I expect to see Latrell Mitchell back in the centres for the Kangaroos. Though I don’t expect Mitchell to rival Tedesco for the fullback spot, I do expect him to have a massive year in 2021 and I don’t believe that Australia head coach Mal Meninga will be able leave him out of the squad entirely. 

4. Dane Gagai

A player that always steps up to the plate at representative level is Dane Gagai. The South Sydney and Queensland centre is regularly one of the best players on the pitch when he dons either the Kangaroos of Maroons jersey and I expect more of the same from him in 2021.

5. Nick Cotric

Another player that I expect to play out of position is Nick Cotric. Cotric made a name for himself on the wing for Canberra and has made multiple appearances on the edge for Australia. Despite now moving to centre after his transfer to the Bulldogs, I still expect to see Cotric on the wing for Kangaroos should he replicate the success he has had in recent seasons.

6. Cameron Munster

Another relatively easy selection is Cameron Munster at 6. Though there are a few suitable contenders for the position, no one performs as well on the big stage as Cameron Munster. We see this on a regular basis for both Melbourne and Queensland, most recently in Game 3 of last year’s Origin series when his masterclass orchestrated a Queensland series victory.

7. Nathan Cleary

Choosing the Kangaroos scrum-half will not be a simple decision. Daly Cherry-Evans has been ever present for Australia over the last few years, but I expect Cleary to have another outstanding season for Penrith as he continues to be one of the game’s most influential players. If Cleary can produce another season to match the standard he set last year, it would be hard for Meninga to overlook him for this year’s World Cup.

8. Josh Papalii

No surprises in the front row with Papalii being widely recognised as one of the game’s best prop forwards. Papalii’s dynamic style of play sets him apart from most other forwards in the world and I expect him to be one of the first names on the team sheet for Mal Meninga in 2021.

9. Damien Cook

Now that Cameron Smith has officially retired, Damien Cook has taken his place as the game’s best hooker. Cook replaced Smith as Kangaroos hooker back in 2018, and the New South Wales number nine should maintain his spot when the World Cup rolls around at the end of the year.

10. Payne Haas

In the other front-row spot, I have 21-year-old Payne Haas. Haas has continued to be a standout in a struggling Broncos side and since 2019, has represented both New South Wales and Australia. Should Haas continue at the rate he is improving, I can’t see him being left out of the Kangaroos squad.

11. Tyson Frizell

Despite a less than impressive season with the Dragons in 2020, I have Tyson Frizell taking up the first second-row spot. Frizell has rarely put a foot wrong on the international stage, and after his move to the Knights, I expect a big year from the 29-year-old that will likely help him retain his spot in the Kangaroos side.

12. Wade Graham

For the second back row position, I have Wade Graham. Graham has represented Australia eight times, and I expect Meninga to rely on the 30-year-old’s experience to help out some of the younger talent.

13. Jake Trbojevic 

The 13 spot wasn’t an easy decision to make. Trbojevic will have to find his form in 2021 in order to retain his position in the Kangaroos line-up. I have him sharing game time with Rabbitohs star Cameron Murray as I expect Meninga to rotate between the two at the end of the year.

14. Harry Grant

This selection may be unlikely and my decision to put him as the first interchange spot may be way off. Damien Cook is more than capable of doing 80 minutes on a regular basis, but given Grant’s performance off the bench for Queensland last year, I feel Meninga could give him a similar role for the Kangaroos should he replicate the form he produced in his rookie season.

15. Reagen Campbell-Gillard

Not the easiest selection to make. The Kangaroos will need multiple front row forwards on the bench, and I think Campbell-Gillard will just sneak into the 17. RCG hasn’t appeared for Australia for a few years now, but after a phenomenal 2020 season, another big year could help him force his way back into Kangaroos contention.

16. David Klemmer

Taking up the third bench spot, I have David Klemmer. Klemmer has represented Australia 19 times, becoming a regular in the national side since 2014. Despite an array of forward talent to choose from, I believe Meninga will want to keep an experienced forward like Klemmer in his ranks. 

17. Cameron Murray

Even though I have him missing out on the starting 13 spot to Jake Trbojevic, I can’t see Cameron Murray being left out entirely. The Souths star has consistently proven himself as one of the best locks in the competition, and I expect him to share game time with Trbojevic for the Kangaroos.

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