AUSTRALIAN coach Mal Meninga says the amazing depth of talent available for this year’s Anzac Test against New Zealand shows why a return to traditional Kangaroo Tours should be a priority for rugby league.
Meninga is planning for the May 5 clash with the Kiwis knowing he will be without senior players Matt Scott and Greg Inglis – and possibly five-eighth Johnathan Thurston – because of injury.
But Meninga said the benefits gleaned from last year’s extended Four Nations campaign in the UK meant there were no panic buttons being pressed by the Australian before the Test at Canberra’s GIO Stadium.
“Any time any team loses players of that calibre, especially with their huge experience in representative footy, it is a big blow,” Meninga told fogs.com.au.
“We are still hopeful John may be a chance of recovering in time, but even if he doesn’t make it, we know we have the depth there to handle it.
“With such a short turnaround between going into camp and playing the Test, we don’t have the luxury of time to devote to introducing a rookie into our system, so we will be looking to the guys that did the job for us in the Four Nations.
“They all did a good job there for us, and their efforts deserve to be rewarded.
“While Matty Scotty is a huge loss, I was very impressed by the effort and attitude of guys like Aaron Woods, David Klemmer and Shannon Boyd on the Four Nations, and they will all be ready to step right in.
“It is the same at No.6. While we would love to have Johnathan there, we know that we have Michael Morgan and James Maloney who spent quality time in our system last year, and have both played for Australia and know what is required.
“That was why taking a bigger squad to the Four Nations was important, because we had time to bring new guys into our system, see how they work among the group, and to give them experience about what it is like training and playing as a Kangaroo.”
Meninga said building on that depth and simultaneously improving international rugby league were the reasons he is so keen to see a return to end-of-season Kangaroo Tours, and even mid-season tours to New Zealand.
“I think it is important for the game itself as international level that we are not only playing occasional Test matches, but committing to extended tours where we are able to play mid-week games against club and lower-level representative teams,” Mal said.
“It is great for those teams and their supporter bases to play games against Australia, and at the same time, it gives our fringe Test players the chance to wear the Australian jersey and improve themselves as well.
“It’s important that we take the Kangaroos brand and use it to spread the word about rugby league. That means taking it to the people of Leeds, Wigan and London but also France, Scotland and Ireland to increase awareness of our sport.
“But even in New Zealand we have work to do. It has been a long time since we played a Test there, and even longer since the Kangaroos toured for a three-match series.
“We should be looking at what rugby union does with its Bledisloe series, and making sure we are giving back to rugby league in New Zealand by playing Tests there on a regular basis.”