Australia coach Mal Meninga has given his biggest indication yet that James Tedesco will remain Kangaroos fullback in spite of the emergence of Brisbane No.1 Reece Walsh. The Broncos superstar has been a revelation in 2023, starring in Queensland's State of Origin series win and setting the NRL competition alight with a growing number of dazzling displays for Kevin Walters' Brisbane side.
Walsh produced another masterclass in Brisbane's most recent win against last year's grand finalists, Parramatta. The electrifying No.1 finished the match with one try, a try assist, two line breaks, four line break assists, four tackle breaks and a 40/20, running for 159 metres as the Broncos thrashed the Eels 54-10.
It was the latest extraordinary case for Walsh to replace Tedesco at fullback for the Kangaroos, with Australia's World Cup-winning skipper experiencing something of a form slump in 2023. Veteran commentator Phil Gould was among those to suggest "new blood" was needed in the national side and that Walsh and Newcastle skipper Kalyn Ponga were among those in line for Tedesco's Kangaroos jersey.
Mal Meninga lays down challenge for Reece Walsh
Meninga has consistently played down suggestions that Tedesco's spot is under threat, hailing his captain's consistency for the Kangaroos and leadership qualities in a World Cup-winning side. However, the Kangaroos coach admits he is a massive fan of Walsh and indicated the Brisbane fullback could be a part of Australia's Test squad for the end-of-season Tests against New Zealand and Samoa if he prove his versatility by being able to play at lock.
"Versatility is really key for picking squads for the Kangaroos," Meninga said at Wednesday's launch of the Pacific Championships in Brisbane. "Reece can play fullback and I know he can play in the halves as well. It will be interesting to see whether he can put his head in the scrum and play 13, because that is what you need.
"You need a player who plays 14, or a player who sits on your reserves (bench) who can play a number of positions. That will be spoken about at the selectors' meeting, but (Walsh) is certainly putting pressure on being in the team itself. So is Dylan Edwards and Kalyn Ponga … and Ryan Papenhuyzen is coming back. There are plenty of fullbacks around who can play a number of positions."
Kangaroos coach endorses James Tedesco for No.1 role
Walsh outplayed Tedesco in this year's Origin series and has had a bigger influence at clubland for the Broncos this season than the Roosters skipper. Meninga said he admired the level Walsh's game had gone to but backed Tedesco to remain first-choice fullback for the Kangaroos.
"Teddy is the incumbent. He is the captain of the Kangaroos," Meninga said. "He led the team to a successful World Cup last year. He has been going well all year. His effort levels are great.
"We have got a couple of other selectors but in my mind he is the number one fullback at the moment and out of loyalty he should be selected." Fellow league greats Darren Locker and Laurie Daley are the other two Kangaroos selectors who hold the fates of Tedesco and Walsh in their hands.
Meninga said form, loyalty and performances at representative level would all be taken into account when picking his side to play Samoa in Townsville on October 14 for the Pacific Championships opener. The Kangaroos coach disputed the suggestion from Gould that the make-up of the Australia squad should come from players whose teams go deep into the NRL finals series.
"I don't believe that playing right through the finals series puts you in a better place than if you get knocked out in the bottom nine,' Meninga added. "The rest could do some people good. If you are talking (about) Teddy... if he gets to have a bit of a spell for a number of weeks he will come back a better player and more refreshed and looking forward to playing in the green and gold jersey."
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