Mal Meninga has overlooked grand final fullbacks Reece Walsh and Dylan Edwards - as well as Kalyn Ponga - and stuck solid with James Tedesco in his Kangaroos squad. Meninga announced a 21-man squad for the end-of-year Pacific Tests on Tuesday, with a number of selections raising eyebrows.
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.
Ponga recently won the Dally M medal as player of the year, while Walsh and Edwards had sensational seasons and led their teams into the grand final. Tedesco had a sub-par season considering his lofty standards, and many had been calling for him to be overlooked for the Kangaroos.
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.”
Cobbo joins Broncos teammate Payne Haas, Thomas Flegler and Kotoni Staggs as first-time selections for the Kangaroos, while Tabuai-Fedow is the other debutant. The three-time NRL champion Panthers only have three players in the squad - Nathan Cleary, Liam Martin and Isaah Yeo.
NRL fans in uproar over Kangaroos squad
Meninga had previously flagged the possibility of picking Walsh as a utility. "Versatility is really key for picking squads for the Kangaroos," he said last month. "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. There are plenty of fullbacks around who can play a number of positions."
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.
Needless to say, fans were blowing up over Tedesco's selection ahead of Edwards, Walsh and Ponga. And it wasn't the only selection to cause uproar.
Holmes and Josh Addo-Carr have both found themselves in trouble in recent weeks. Cowboys centre Holmes was sanctioned by the NRL over a video showing him with a bag of white powder, and will have to serve a one-game suspension during the Kangaroos and Samoa game.
Bulldogs winger Addo-Carr was involved in a mass brawl at the Koori Knockout carnival last weekend, and is part of a police probe that could see him hit with charges. Latrell Mitchell was unavailable for selection due to a finger injury, even though he played at the Koori Knockout as well.
Meninga said: “South Sydney Rabbitohs said that he’s out because of injury, so we went with that. I was a bit surprised [he played on the weekend]. The club gave him permission to do that. He loves the Koori Knockout ... he’s got through that tournament, went well, so looking forward to him having a good off-season and good season next year.”
HOW ON EARTH DID TEDDY GET PICKED AGAIN OVER WALSH, PONGA & EDWARDS!!!! #KANGAROOS
— The NRL Goat (@NRL_GOAT) October 2, 2023
Walsh should 100% be there
— Thomas Wylie (@TWylie_) October 2, 2023
How is Walsh or Edwards
not in this team. Teddy had a
— Warriors NRL Fanatics (@FanaticsNrl) October 2, 2023
No Walsh, what a joke
— Lachlan Waugh (@lachlan_waugh) October 2, 2023
I can understand the Walsh omission due to the errors/inconsistency in his game, but Edwards being overlooked again is genuinely baffling.
— Sometimes cry at porno (@crisis_actor69) October 2, 2023
Teddy over literally any of Edwards, Walsh and Ponga is wiiiiild🤣🤣
— Sam (@aotesam) October 2, 2023
Ponga edwards and Walsh should be in this team over tedesco ffs https://t.co/wq4qEgGFFu
— Emily (@Emilyrenee_13) October 2, 2023
No ponga , Walsh or Edwards is absolutely ridiculous. If Ponga and Walsh are injured than how on earth wasn’t Edwards Picked? I’m loyal as hell to Teddy as he is my club captain but I’d pick Edwards before him this year .
— Chris (@Chris2Far86) October 2, 2023
JAC making that team is farcical
— Hooks & Skulls GC ™️ (@hook_gc) October 2, 2023
Kangaroos squad for Pacific Championship Tests:
Josh Addo-Carr (Bulldogs)
Patrick Carrigan (Broncos)
Daly Cherry-Evans (Sea Eagles)
Nathan Cleary (Panthers)
Selwyn Cobbo (Broncos)
Lindsay Collins (Roosters)
Reuben Cotter (Cowboys)
Tino Fa’asuamaleaui (Titans)
Thomas Flegler (Broncos)
Harry Grant (Storm)
Payne Haas (Broncos)
Valentine Holmes (Cowboys)
Ben Hunt (Dragons)
Liam Martin (Panthers)
Cameron Munster (Storm)
Cameron Murray (Rabbitohs)
Kotoni Staggs (Broncos)
Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow (Dolphins)
James Tedesco (Roosters)
Jake Trbojevic (Sea Eagles)
Isaah Yeo (Panthers)
Sign up to our newsletter and score the biggest sport stories of the week.