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Mal Meninga makes Dylan Edwards Origin call amid James Tedesco debate

The veteran's fullback's representative spot has come under threat from the three-time premiership winner.

Pictured left to right is James Tedesco, Mal Meninga and Dylan Edwards.
Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga (centre) says Dylan Edwards (R) deserves to play alongside James Tedesco in State of Origin for NSW. Pic: Getty

Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga says Dylan Edwards deserves to be playing State of Origin for NSW, despite the presence of Blues and Kangaroos captain James Tedesco. Both men are among the best fullbacks in the NRL, and Roosters skipper Tedesco has been the incumbent No.1 for state and country for several years now.

However, Meninga has offered the next coach of the Blues a solid blueprint about how to feature both men in the same starting 13, with Edwards excelling for the Kangaroos on the wing during their Pacific Championships series. Penrith's three-time premiership-winning fullback will once again line up on the wing for Australia in Saturday's final against New Zealand in Hamilton.

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Edwards was initially overlooked when Meninga announced his 21-man squad for the Pacific Championships, but earned a late call-up due to a suspension being handed down to Josh Addo-Carr. Many fans thought the Panthers superstar deserved to be picked ahead of Tedesco after a season in 2023 with his club and state that the Roosters skipper admitted was short of his lofty standards.

"He's a competitor. That's what you like about him," Meninga remarked about his Aussie captain. "I understand that statement. Players want to be successful and play in winning teams, that didn't happen for him this year, so he probably feels a little bit unfulfilled."

Tedesco admitted it had been "tough" to be away from his partner and six-week-old daughter, but was unequivocal when asked whether he considered taking time away from the Kangaroos. " Oh no," he told Nine News. "I'm just enjoying every moment I can, any chance I get to represent my country, to wear the Australian jersey, and to captain."

Mal Meninga backs Dylan Edwards for NSW

That desire to play representative football suggests Edwards may have to wait some time before he gets a shot at the Blues No.1 jersey, providing the next coach remains loyal to the long-serving skipper. However, Meninga has given a glowing endorsement for Edwards to perform the same duty on the wing for NSW like he has been doing for Australia.

Pictured left to right, Dylan Edwards and James Tedesco.
Dylan Edwards has been excelling on the wing for the Kangaroos with James Tedesco at fullback. Image: Getty

" Versatility is really important at the rep level, there's no doubt about that," the Kangaroos coach said. "Dylan is a great fella and he's a highly intelligent player. He did start his career on the wing for Penrith, he got his first shot at first-grade on the wing, and he's handled it really well.

"His footy IQ is enormous. Obviously he's great under the high ball and his kick-reception work, which he does at fullback anyway, is really strong, and he's got a good sense defensively.

"He deserves to be there (for NSW). He's just been hanging on the fringe because of James Tedesco. I'm a big fan of James and what he's done in the game, so that's got to be respected.

"His (Edwards') form in the NRL in the last few years deserves an opportunity to play representative football." Complicating matters for Edwards is the fact Panthers teammate Brian To'o is one of the Blues' incumbent wingers, while Josh Addo-Carr is the other. Edwards only got his shot on the wing for Australia as a replacement for Addo-Carr, following his two-game-ban for a brawl at the Koori Knockout.

"He is a great man, Madge," the Kangaroos coach said about his New Zealand opposite. "Obviously he is [from] New South Wales ... so I think if given the job he will do a terrific job. I think he's a great representative coach as well, so he'll bring the best out of those fellas. But that's not my decision."

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