Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga has confirmed he didn't pick World Cup-winning centre Latrell Mitchell because he was under the impression he was injured, despite sticking with a number of incumbents in the squad. Meninga has come under fire for his Australia squad following the NRL grand final, having kept under-fire fullback James Tedesco as captain.
He opted not to go with a reserve fullback in the squad, with many fuming over the exclusion of both Broncos young gun Reece Walsh and NRL premiership-winner Dylan Edwards. While a number of his other selections have come under fire, Meninga has remained loyal to the majority of the Australian team that won the Rugby League World Cup in the UK late last year.
However, one star not included in the squad was Mitchell. The Rabbitohs fullback has been doing plenty of community work since his season came to an end, and even played in the Koori Knockout last weekend. He was one of the stars in attendance, alongside Bulldogs winger Josh Addo-Carr.
The Rabbitohs ace was a huge part of Australia's success at the World Cup, having played centre with Tedesco at fullback. While Mitchell didn't enjoy the best end to the season having been suspended for the Rabbitohs' final game against the Roosters, it was put to Meninga why Mitchell wasn't included in the squad.
And the Kangaroos great claimed the Rabbitohs had told him he was injured when asking about his availability. "South Sydney Rabbitohs said he was out because of injury. We have just gone with that," he said.
When asked about his attendance at the rugby league tournament on the weekend, Meninga admitted he was a little surprised. "I was a bit surprised, but I think the club gave him permission to do that," Meninga added. "Knowing Latrell, he loves the Koori Knockout, he always gets involved. A very proud First Nations person. He has got through that tournament well and I look forward to him having a good off-season."
Meninga defended Mitchell after the Rabbitohs fullback was injured and missed out on State of Origin and a fair few games for his club. The Kangaroos coach said he thought some rest for Mitchell, having played the season off the back of a World Cup, will be good for the fullback.
Mitchell was rewarded for his hard work and dedication off the field this year having won the Ken Stephens award for community service at the Dally M awards this year.
Mal Meninga under fire for Kangaroos squad
The exclusion of Walsh and Edwards from the Kangaroos squad certainly caused some uproar from fans. Tedesco, who is the incumbent fullback and captain, is the only No.1 in the squad, with Meninga picking a number of outside backs who can cover fullback if need be.
Queenslanders Valentine Holmes, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow and Selwyn Cobbo have all won selection, with Meninga unable to find room for a back-up specialist fullback. But Meninga stayed loyal to his captain, who led the Kangaroos to glory at the World Cup in 2022. It means a fullback who probably wasn't in the top three at his position this year is the Australian No.1.
“The quality we saw in the regular season, the State of Origin series and the finals series means we have been able to put together an outstanding squad,” Meninga said on Tuesday. “The squad has a healthy blend of representatives from last year’s World Cup, as well as others who have performed extremely well over the course of the season.”
The Kangaroos will play Samoa in Townsville on October 14, before taking on New Zealand in Melbourne on October 28. The final will be played the following week in Hamilton.
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