Meninga unveils 'versatile' new-look Roos
Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga has named a revamped World Cup line-up that will see six debutants and seven Storm players included in the 24-man squad.
Meninga said every player in the 24 will get some game time through the group stages while for some of those players unlucky to miss out, versatility and form were key factors.
"We've got great versatility in our squad and a number of players who can play in all positions in the backline and in the forwards as well," Meninga said at Rugby League Central on Tuesday morning.
"I think it's a well-balanced rugby league team and will hold us in really good stead through the World Cup."
Meninga rang a disappointed Blake Ferguson – the player of the tournament last time the Kangaroos toured in the 2016 Four Nations – to advise him form was behind his omission but that he remained in the frame for future selection.
"The only player I rang [who missed out] was Blake Ferguson who was obviously clearly upset, he's been a great player for the green and gold. I had to be honest with him around his form and he accepted that… He wasn't in the best of form at the back end of year," Meninga said.
RLPA player of the year James Tedesco was also unlucky but the form and versatility of other fullbacks in the squad like Tom Trbojevic, Darius Boyd and Dane Gagai meant they were preferred.
Brisbane skipper Boyd still faces a medical on his troublesome hamstring but Meninga anticipated him being available for the tournament opener against England on October 27. Penrith's Josh Mansour – a specialist winger – is the standby player if Boyd is ruled out.
"We obviously thought about [Tedesco] in great depth; we have a great array of fullbacks playing our game at the moment," Meninga said.
"We've got the Clive Churchill fullback in Billy Slater who had a terrific Origin series, Darius Boyd who has never lost test match in green and gold.
"It was such a difficult decision, it came down to all-around versatility and the ability to play a number of positions and unfortunately James misses out to Tom [Trbojevic] and Dane Gagai and Val Holmes who all play fullback at their clubs."
This tournament will cap a remarkable return from injury for Slater, who dominated at club and Origin level at the age of 34 after two years out injured, capping his year with a Clive Churchill medal in a Grand Final then Kangaroos World Cup selection.
"Slater is obviously the standout… it's been a remarkable comeback, what a great person and player and deserves his position in the Kangaroos again," Meninga said.
Melbourne's Cameron Munster, Felise Kaufusi and Jordan McLean join Manly's Tom Trbojevic, Cronulla's Wade Graham and Rabbitohs-bound Knight Dane Gagai as the six debutants in the squad.
Meninga praised Kaufusi's breakout season and strong finals series with the Storm edge forward beating out the likes of Bulldogs and Blues back-rower Josh Jackson for a spot in the 24.
"[Kaufusi has had a] breakout year, he was on the verge of making Origin this year, was 18th man for Queensland, outstanding at the back end of the year," Meninga said.
He has combinations on the right edge for Melbourne with the likes of Will Chambers, can play both middle and edge and helps balance the team out, Meninga added.
"There was a whole heap of back rowers in our thinking but his finals series performance made our job really easy about selecting him," he said.
The No.6 jersey and chance to partner Cooper Cronk in the halves is "wide open", according to Meninga, with Michael Morgan, Cam Munster and James Maloney all likely to get time there.
"We've got three candidates who are fantastic players; Cam Munster is part of the Storm spine and Queensland spine, Morgan arguably best half in the comp at the moment," Meninga said.
"James Maloney I've got high respect for, he's a winner, he will put pressure on everyone in that No.6 jersey."
Versatility was also behind the inclusion of Dragons-bound Bronco Ben Hunt as the back-up hooker ahead of specialist candidates like Jake Friend.
The Kangaroos play a pre-tournament trial in Fiji on October 14 that will likely see the majority of Grand Final representatives from North Queensland and Melbourne rested and the rest of the squad get a solid hit-out.