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Meninga seeks eligibility clarity

Wednesday 20 July 2022 | Written by Supplied | Published in League, Sports

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Meninga seeks eligibility clarity
Penrith’s Samoan connection after last year’s grand final win. Grant Trouville/NRL Photos/22071914

Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga is preparing to select a World Cup train-on squad and wants dual eligible players to declare which nation they are going to play for.

Meninga recently inspected accommodation and training facilities for the Kangaroos, Jillaroos and Wheelaroos while in England to help promote the World Cup, and he said planning for the three Australian teams was advanced.

However, there is uncertainty around the availability of some players Meninga is considering selecting as they are also eligible for other nations – in particular, Samoa, Tonga and Fiji.

The decision by Victor Radley to align himself with England took most in the game by surprise, including Meninga, who was considering the Sydney Roosters forward for the World Cup after he starred for the Junior Kangaroos in 2019.

NSW wingers Brian To’o (Samoa) and Daniel Tupou (Tonga), and interchange utility Siosifa Talakei (Tonga), have also ruled themselves out of selection for the Gallagher Kangaroos.

To’o’s Panthers and Blues team-mates Jarome Luai and Stephen Crichton are expected to choose Samoa, along with Maroons prop Josh Papali’i, who has advised Meninga of his desire to represent his heritage.

Fellow Queensland forwards Tino Fa'asuamaleaui and Jeremiah Nanai are also eligible for Samoa and the trio posed for photos with a Samoan flag after last Wednesday night’s Origin decider at Suncorp Stadium.

Fa'asuamaleaui has indicated he will play for Australia if selected, while Nanai, who was born in New Zealand to Samoan parents, has previously knocked back approaches from the Kiwis.

The 19-year-old moved to North Queensland before his 13th birthday so is eligible to play State of Origin but he could still represent Samoa at the World Cup and continue playing for the Maroons.

With Meninga planning to begin adding players to a train-on squad as soon as their club's Telstra Premiership commitments are over, he wants to know if any are unavailable for Kangaroos selection.

“The international game is built on passion so if players are passionate about representing their heritage I think that is great,” Meninga said.

“I just think we need to know now who they want to play for because it enhances everyone’s preparation. You just don’t turn up in the UK and start training then.

“I’ll pick train on squads, obviously, at the back end of our season for those players whose teams are out of the finals.

“From a national coach’s perspective, I want players coming into that environment who are passionate about putting on the green and gold jersey and doing their best for the country.”

Due to COVID, the Kangaroos have not played a Test since their 16-12 loss to Tonga at the end of the 2019 season so assembling the squad as early as possible is going to be important for Australia’s World Cup defence.

Manly and Queensland halfback Daly Cherry-Evans is likely to be the only player to have experienced a tour in England after being a member of the 2013 World Cup squad.

“Behind the scenes we are pretty well organised. It is just around who is going to play for who. Once you know that you can put a bit more detail into it,” Meninga said.

“I know that the rest of the nations are actively chasing players, but my belief is different. I don’t want to be coercing players to play for Australia. That is not what should happen, in my opinion.”

The Kangaroos will be based in Manchester for the duration of the tournament, which begins on October 15 and concludes with the Men’s and Women’s finals at Old Trafford on November 19.

Australia play Fiji at Headingley on the opening day of the World Cup, which will commence with England hosting Samoa at St James Park. The winner of that match is on track to play Tonga in the semi-final

“At the moment it is all speculation but if it is true that Jarome Luai and Stephen Crichton and Brian To’o, Izack Tago and the Mays (Taylan and Tyrone) are all going to play for Samoa they will assemble a fantastic footy team,” Meninga said.

The Kangaroos other pool matches are against Scotland and Italy, with whom likely Australian captain James Tedesco played at the 2017 World Cup.

It is expected the Kangaroos will face the Kiwis in the semi-final at Elland Road, Leeds, with Tonga, Samoa and England on the other side of the draw.

The Jillaroos face New Zealand, Cook Islands and France in their pool matches, which commence on November 2, while the Wheelaroos play England, Ireland and Spain.

The final of the Wheelchair World Cup will be staged in Manchester on Friday, November 18 – the day before the Men’s and Women’s deciders at Old Trafford.

  • Brad Walter/NRL.com