MAROON-in-waiting Felise Kaufusi has surged into the representative arena on the back of the Storm’s successful season as one of the bolters in Mal Meninga’s 24-man Kangaroos squad for the Rugby League World Cup.
Queensland’s 18th man in Game 3 of this year’s State of Origin series, Kaufusi will make his senior representative debut in the green and gold as one of 13 Queenslanders picked for Australia for the World Cup.
“He’s had a breakout year,” Meninga said when asked about Kaufusi at the World Cup squad announcement. “He was on the verge of making Origin this year.
“He was outstanding in the back-end of the year. He’s got combinations with Cooper (Cronk) and Will Chambers on that right edge for the Storm.
“He’s a big body and can play in the middle. He helps balance the footy team.”
Kaufusi was among seven Storm players picked for Australia after their crushing 34-6 grand final win over the Cowboys on October 1, joining skipper Cameron Smith, Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk, Will Chambers, Cameron Munster and Jordan McLean.
There are a total of six debutants, with Kaufusi, Munster and McLean, joined by Queenslander Dane Gagai, Tom Trbojevic and Wade Graham to be called up for their first taste of international football.
Gagai’s selection is well deserved after winning the Wally Lewis Medal as player of this year’s Origin series on the back of an outstanding campaign for the Maroons.
Gagai has been exceptional in every one of his performances for Queensland, and will handle the next step up in his representative career.
While Slater has been there and done it all before, his return to the Kangaroos squad for the first time in over three years completes another fabulous chapter in the story of one of rugby league’s great comebacks.
With his career on the brink after a series of shoulder injuries that required surgery, Slater returned to his best this year and will reclaim the Australian No.1 jersey.
Getting back to the NRL would have been a big enough achievement for Slater, but the Innisfail legend will now add a World Cup jersey to a 2017 haul that includes an Origin series win with Queensland, a premiership with Melbourne and the Clive Churchill Medal as player of the grand final.
Slater’s remarkable season is only shadowed by his close-friend and captain Smith, who now stands on the precipice of the greatest individual season in the game’s history.
Captaining Australia to World Cup victory would round out a season where he lead Queensland to Origin glory, Melbourne to the premiership and he won the Dally M Medal as best player in the competition – on top of becoming the first man to play 40 Origins, and set a new record for NRL appearances.
While Cronk is still weighing up whether to play on with a new club in 2018, the World Cup means the Storm’s “big three” will get to play together again, with the Australians’ campaign to fittingly get under way against England in Melbourne on October 27.
Hunt is another spectacular success story, making his return to the Kangaroos in a rollercoaster year that saw him dropped to the Ipswich Jets before fighting back to make his Origin debut and finish the season as a match-winning hooker for Brisbane.
Darius Boyd, Chambers, Cronk, Gagai, Matt Gillett, Valentine Holmes, Hunt, Kaufusi, Josh McGuire, Michael Morgan, Munster, Slater and Smith are the 13 Queenslanders named in the squad.
KANGAROOS: Darius Boyd, Will Chambers, Boyd Cordner (vc), Cooper Cronk, Josh Dugan, Andrew Fifita, Tyson Frizell, Dane Gagai, Matt Gillett, Wade Graham, Valentine Holmes, Ben Hunt, Felise Kaufusi, David Klemmer, Josh McGuire, James Maloney, Jordan McLean, Michael Morgan, Cameron Munster, Billy Slater, Cameron Smith (c), Jake Trbojevic, Tom Trbojevic, Aaron Woods.