Thursday, September 14, 2017

Fresh-faced Kangaroos' World Cup backline

On Tuesday night at the Rugby League Players’ Association awards Jarryd Hayne declared he would be forgoing the opportunity to be selected in the Australian squad for the Rugby League World Cup and electing to represent his heritage of Fiji. 

The consummate fullback who first played with Fiji at the 2008 World Cup held in Australia, before then representing Australia at the 2013 tournament held in England and Wales, said the time has come to let the new kids on the block step forth. 

The Australian Kangaroos  Image: RLWC2017

“It’s pretty obvious with the amount of talent and the amount of depth they’ve got,” Hayne told News Sydney.

“I’m pushing 29 now, so I’m a bit older. 

"These young guys definitely deserve their spot.”

While Hayne has chosen to go back to the future in a typically enigmatic decision, he has raised a debatable point about just who Mal Meninga will choose to select in his Kangaroos’ squad for the 15th edition of the historic tournament. 

In particular, who he will blood in some of the prized positions across the Australian backline. 

Meninga, a coach known for his loyalty to his incumbent players, has indicated in the past that he views the green and gold jersey as one that should be filled by the best player available, regardless of their age.

 Will Meninga stay loyal to Josh Dugan? Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong 

Given the strength built from the Queensland dynasty which Mal oversaw and the combinations built at the Melbourne Storm, you can assume Billy Slater will likely fill the fullback position with Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk to play hooker, and halfback, respectively. 

Indeed, you could likely say Dane Gagai and Will Chambers are almost certain starters.

But with Greg Inglis and Johnathan Thurston unavailable for the tournament through injury, many questions remain about the rest of the backs. 

On the advice of Jarryd Hayne, here’s a remarkably skilful crop of youngsters who could fill some of the vacant spots in the back five positions come October in a proposed alternative line-up.

Fullback: Tom Trbojevic

Trbojevic’s rise into first grade has been well-beyond the expectations of any 20-year-old in the game. After debuting on the wing in 2015 at just age 18, the Manly junior has filled the void left by Brett Stewart and given us a ‘fresh prince of Brookvale’ with his sensational style of play. 

The dynamic and silky ball runner has never looked out of place on an NRL field and provides a tremendous work ethic from the back for his club side. Yet to play any representative football, Trobjevic has racked up 55 appearances for Manly over the last three years and looks more than ready to make the jump.

An equally as prolific try-scorer as the first prince of Brookie – Brett Stewart – Trobjevic already has 30 tries to his name and would provide incredibly back-up for Slater throughout the six-week competition. 

Wing: Valentine Holmes

Holmes was given the opportunity to play State of Origin football this year by Kevin Walters and he didn’t disappoint, scoring on debut and finishing the series with a hat-trick in the deciding fixture.

Earlier in the year Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga again handed him a national jersey following his successful Four Nation’s tour last season and the Cronulla Sharks' premiership win.

The fact that he represented Australia before he had played Origin given it’s such a rare occurrence in today’s game is enough for Holmes’ not-so-hot club form to be overlooked. Having already played in the national side and now sure to become a permanent presence in the Maroons squad, Holmes is a must for this alternative line-up at the ripe age of just 22. 

Centre: James Roberts 

One of the game’s most lethal attacking weapons, James Roberts' national career should begin at the RLWC in 2017. How he hasn’t played any rep football outside of the indigenous game and a sole City-Origin appearance in 2015 is bemusing. 

While critics will lament his defensive deficiencies, the 24-year-old Brisbane centre is a line-crosser Meninga can no longer ignore. Should the Brisbane Broncos go deep into the NRL Finals, it will likely mean Roberts has plastered his name across the try-scorers’ list.

And while in the past Roberts may have crossed the line off the field, there is no man who could command his trust more than Meninga.

With 17 tries for the Broncos in 2017 from 24 starts, and 58 in a 101-game career so far, Roberts has earned his place. 

Centre: Latrell Mitchell 

Having almost instantly been compared to one of the best centres to ever play the game in Greg Inglis when he came onto the scene in 2016, Latrell Mitchell was probably always going to have a dip in his form after such a scintillating debut season. 

But the mid-year shift back to reserve grade and trip up the F3 to play with the Wyong Roos didn’t dent the 20-year-old desire. In fact, it probably made him even hungrier, as the naturally-gifted Taree-product has score as many tries in his second season as he did his first – 14. He has even done it in two less games this time round.

As the youngest player in the backline of youth, Mitchell will need plenty of support should he enter the Kangaroos’ set-up but he will certainly not look out of place. He dusts off the defenders of any team that comes his way and shifts past the men many years his senior like they’re static pieces of training equipment.


Wing: Corey Oates

While the form of Dane Gagai in the Origin arena makes him impossible to ignore for selection, these back five have been selected on the premise of youth and at 26, Gagai has just slipped out of consideration. But in his place comes the Broncos’ teetering tower of destruction. 

A rangy winger polar opposite to the icons who previously adorned the edges for Brisbane, Oates has lit-up Suncorp Stadium since 2013, scoring 59 tries in 95 NRL games. If that resume doesn’t scream that his potency to make opposition teams pay, I’m not sure we’re selecting teams the correct way. Even in his four games for Queensland, Oates has nabbed two tries. Impressive, given the traditionally low-scoring affairs.

One element Oates brings different to his fellow players, and one that will be well-needed against potential oppositions, is his height. At six-foot, four inches tall, the 22-year-old will be able to match it with the likes of some of his counterparts, including the athletic Fijian Suliasi Vunivalu.  

The potentially raw and new Kangaroos' line-up.