Mal Meninga makes eye-opening call on picking Reece Walsh as Australian Test fullback

Meninga says the Kangaroos fullback spot is up for grabs.

State of Origin is set to double as a shootout for the Kangaroos fullback spot at the 2026 World Cup, with Mal Meninga revealing players' performances in representative football will play a large part in who he selects. On Wednesday Australian hopefuls Reece Walsh and Dylan Edwards will go head-to-head for the first time in the representative arena.

And after the Kiwis' record-breaking 30-0 triumph against Australia in the final of last year's Pacific Championships, Meninga says Test positions are now up for grabs, including the No.1 spot long occupied by long-serving James Tedesco. The Roosters fullback retained the jersey in last year’s Pacific Championships, however, with the Tri Colours skipper making way for Edwards in the NSW team for Origin 2, the race to be the Kangaroos fullback is wide open.

Pictured Mal Meninga left and Reece Walsh right
State of Origin is set to double as a shootout for the Kangaroos' No. 1 jersey with Reece Walsh and Dylan Edwards both in the running for Australia's fullback spot at the upcoming World Cup. Image: Getty

"If a couple of players start to poke their head up, play to the best of their ability and make a difference at this level, you're worthy of being considered for the Australian job,” Meninga said at an Origin promotion with Laurie Daley in Melbourne. “Reece was [in conversations] last year…but he was at the back end of a pretty tough year, we felt, and Kalyn Ponga, as well. If a couple of players start to poke their head up and play to the best of their ability and make a difference at this level, you're worthy of being considered for the Australian job."

“After what happened last year, we've got to look at where we're heading with the Kangaroos and I have to place a fair bit of importance this year on rep footy,” he said. "Laurie's a selector as well, and we sat down, we had a look at where we were heading with the Kangaroos, Tedesco was the incumbent, and he hasn't let his team, his state or his country down before. We've got so many great fullbacks and some of our great players are fullbacks in this day and age and when you get to the elite level, then sometimes you’ve just got to find a spot for them.”

Despite his comments seemingly suggesting Australia could have a new fullback by next year's World Cup, Meninga did say he won't be disregarding loyalty and club form completely but reiterated that Origin performances will hold plenty of weight come selection time. “Just because you don't play in Origin doesn't mean you're going to miss out,” he said.

“Origin finishes in the middle of July and then the competition goes to October so a lot of things can happen in those 10 weeks. Loyalty and club form is really important as well.” Edwards played on the wing for Australia in last year's Pacific Championships and will also face competition from Walsh, Tedesco, Dally M medallist Kalyn Ponga and Storm star Ryan Papenhuyzen.


Billy Slater promises that complacency won't be an issue as he aims to emulate his former State of Origin mentor Mal Meninga by winning his first three series as Queensland coach. Meninga - who coached Slater = famously won his first eight series in charge from 2006-2013 and he is one of only four coaches in Origin history to win three series in a row.

Remarkably, all did so at their first attempt at coaching in the Origin cauldron. Arthur Beetson won the 1982-1984 series as Maroons coach after also being at the helm in 1981, in the one-off Origin win by Queensland. While Phil Gould is the only NSW coach to achieve the feat, from 1992-1994.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 28: Coach Billy Slater talk tactics with Reece Walsh during a Queensland Maroons State of Origin Training Session at Brisbane Broncos on May 28, 2024 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)
Billy Slater and Reece Walsh in Maroons camp.

Ahead 1-0 in the 2024 series, if the Maroons can get the win on Wednesday night, Slater will join the Origin coaching greats. But the Queensland mentor says it isn't something he is thinking about. "I don't think about that, to be honest. I don't think about what sort of coach I am, all of that stuff is an outside perception," Slater said earlier this month. "I just try and do the best job I can for this footy team and I'm here to serve my state. My duty is to help these guys be at their best, individually and collectively as a team.

"That's where my focus is. My progression, that doesn't worry me, I am here for the right reasons and that's all I care about."