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Kangaroos set for mass changes after Blues dominate Origin merit team

Australian coach Mal Meninga is set to oversee the biggest selection overhaul in more than a decade after NSW players dominated a Kangaroos Origin merit team chosen after their series win.

With Brad Fittler’s new-look Blues claiming the State of Origin shield for just the second time in 13 years, the Australian selectors picked 12 NSW players in the 17-man squad, which will form the nucleus of the Test team to play at the end of the season.

Among them are seven players yet to wear the green-and-gold – fullback James Tedesco, wingers Tom Trbojevic and Josh Addo-Carr, centre Latrell Mitchell, hooker Damien Cook, lock Jack de Belin and prop Paul Vaughan.

If all seven were chosen for the October 14 Test against New Zealand in Auckland, it would be the greatest number of debutants in an Australian team since Ricky Stuart blooded eight, including a teenage Israel Folau, in Wellington in 2007.

After winning the Wally Lewis Medal as player of the Origin series, Billy Slater was selected at fullback but his representative retirement means Tedesco – named on the bench - will claim the Kangaroos No.1 jersey if he maintains his form and fitness. 

NSW fullback James Tedesco and skipper Boyd Cordner.
NSW fullback James Tedesco and skipper Boyd Cordner. ©NRL Photos

"We made the decision as coach and selectors that Billy was the outstanding player of the series but James wasn’t far behind him and that is why he is in the squad," Meninga said. "With Billy making that decision [to retire], we believe James is the next one."

The decision by Queensland coach Kevin Walters to shift Ben Hunt from halfback to the interchange for Origin III has ensured he is the front runner to claim the No.14 jersey for the end of season Test against the Kiwis, and possibly another against Tonga.

Meninga said the representative retirement of Slater, Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston after last year’s World Cup victory ensured there would be a lot of Test newcomers.

However, the success of the Blues has resulted in just five survivors – Slater, David Klemmer, Josh McGuire, Boyd Cordner and Tyson Frizell - from the Australian team which beat England 6-0 in final of the World Cup last December.

"I think this year more than ever, Origin plays its part because we have had such a big turnover of players in key positions," Meninga told

"To play in that environment under so much pressure and come up with the goods speaks volumes for those players."

Blues five-eighth James Maloney and his Maroons counterpart Cameron Munster were chosen as the halves and are likely to form a new-look spine with Tedesco and Cook.

Maloney and Munster were in Australia’s World Cup squad, along with Jake and Tom Trbojevic, while Queensland captain Greg Inglis would have been a certain selection if not for a season-ending knee injury.

"We are working our way who we think will be the 9-7-6 and 1 eventually considering John, Cooper, Cameron and Billy have retired," Meninga said.

"We felt that Jimmy [Maloney] was really the conductor for NSW, he always stayed composed and orchestrated the series victory. We felt he was a dominant figure. 

NSW hooker Damien Cook.
NSW hooker Damien Cook. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

"James Tedesco has been waiting in the wings for a little bit now so we felt he has done enough to warrant selection, and Cook deserves to be at No.9. He has had a terrific year and had a terrific series."

Fittler blooded 13 Origin rookies during the three matches, including 11 in the series opener, and Meninga said NSW’s success ensured they would have a strong representation in the Australian team after years of Queensland domination.

"They make up the majority of the merit team because they deserve it." Meninga said.

"Freddy had them humming as a group and as a team, and that is why they won the series, because 17 players made really good contributions.

"What will be interesting is how well they handle the next eight weeks or so because a lot of them haven't experienced three games of Origin and having to back up after games.

"How they finish the year is really important. There is an expectation with the Kangaroos that we are going to be successful, so we have got to have a really strong mental approach to play for Australia."

Kangaroos Origin Merit team [there was no captain named]:

  • Fullback: Billy Slater (Queensland)
  • Winger: Tom Trbojevic (NSW)
  • Centre: Greg Inglis (Queensland)
  • Centre: Latrell Mitchell (NSW)
  • Winger: Josh Addo-Carr (NSW)
  • Five-eighth: Cameron Munster (Queensland)
  • Halfback: James Maloney (NSW)
  • Prop: David Klemmer (NSW)
  • Hooker: Damien Cook (NSW)
  • Prop: Josh McGuire (Queensland)
  • Second rower: Boyd Cordner (NSW)
  • Second rower: Tyson Frizell (NSW)
  • Lock: Jake Trbojevic (NSW)
  • Interchange: James Tedesco (NSW)
  • Interchange: Jack de Belin (NSW)
  • Interchange: Josh Papali’i (Queensland)
  • Interchange: Paul Vaughan (NSW)
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