The team, which Meninga wants to become a tradition after each Origin series, is based on performances by all 43 players who represented NSW or Queensland and provides an indication that there could be some significant changes to the World Cup squad.
The main talking points include:
- Andrew Fifita being overlooked after his recall to the Kangaroos for the ANZAC Test;
- Slater regaining the Australian No.1 jersey he last wore more than two years ago;
- Tedesco and Gagai usurping Valentine Holmes and Blake Ferguson for wing berths;
- NSW’s James Maloney winning the nod to replace Johnathan Thurston at five-eighth;
- Queensland prop Dylan Napa joining Gagai and Tedesco as Test new caps, and;
- Jarryd Hayne again missing selection.
The absence of Hayne suggests he will be available to represent Fiji at the World Cup, while Tonga would claim Fifita – man of the match in Origin I - if he is not in the Australia’s 24-man squad.
However, Italy may lose Tedesco, while Samoa could be without lock Josh McGuire after he was chosen in the position filled by Trent Merrin in the 30-12 Test win over New Zealand on May 5 in Canberra.
“But this is an important recognition of the Origin players and their form through the series.”
Meninga said that Merrin, who was not selected by NSW for any of the three Origins, and fellow Test forward Sam Thaiday, who was dumped by Queensland after the series opener, would still be considered for World Cup selection.
Darius Boyd appears to have lost his fullback spot to Slater but his versatility almost guarantees his place in in the squad, while Cameron Munster is likely to have earned selection after a stunning Origin debut in Queensland’s series deciding 22-6 win.
The selection of Gagai, who was man-of-the-series, along with Tedesco and the incumbent Test centre pairing of Josh Dugan and Will Chambers suggests Holmes, who scored a hat-trick of tries for Queensland in Origin III and Ferguson will be fighting for one spot.
David Klemmer has confirmed his position after starting alongside Fifita in the May Test, while Jake Trbojevic now also appears guaranteed of selection after being called up as a replacement for the suspended Josh Papalii in Canberra.
A lack of frontrow options means Fifita and fellow starting NSW prop Aaron Woods, whose place he took in the mid-year Test, are likely to be named in the World Cup squad alongside Klemmer, Trbojevic and Napa.
Matt Gillett and Boyd Cordner seem assured of their second row positions, while Tyson Frizell now appears to have cemented his place after being named in the Kangaroos Merit team.
Josh Jackson was also chosen on the bench and if Meninga was to stick with the 17 players named Papalii, Wade Graham, Thaiday and Merrin battling for the remaining backrow berth.
“The selectors will be looking at past recent performances for the Kangaroos, overall form, Club success, form specifically in the Finals Series, form in the State of Origin series as well as the values and bevaviour that we expect of Kangaroos players.”
Meninga said Munster was not considered as the selectors decided on an eligibility criteria whereby a player must have played two out of the three matches in the series. However, players could be selected out of the positions they played in during the series.
“Put simply, the charter was to select the best team based on the State of Origin series and we believe we have done that,” he said.
“This is a special squad – the inaugural Kangaroos Origin Merit Team – and clearly it is a very talented squad as well.
“This has never been done before but I think it is an important step for the national team to make, based on the pathway from state through to international level.
“Overall it will be an acknowledgement of both personal and team performances as well as individual behaviours.”
Meanwhile, winger Brett Morris has ruled himself out of World Cup contention after announcing his retirement from representative football following the Origin series.
Morris bows out with the incredible strike rate of 23 tries in 18 Tests for Australia since his debut in 2009 and was a member of the Kangaroos 2013 World Cup winning team.
This coming Wednesday marks 100 days until the 2017 Rugby League World Cup opener between the Kangaroos and England in Melbourne.
Kangaroos 2017 Merit Team
1 Billy Slater (Qld, Storm)
2 Dane Gagai (Qld, Knights)
3 Will Chambers (Qld, Storm)
4 Josh Dugan (NSW, Dragons)
5 James Tedesco (NSW, Tigers)
6 James Maloney (NSW, Sharks)
7 Cooper Cronk (Qld, Storm)
8 David Klemmer (NSW, Bulldogs)
9 Cameron Smith (Qld, Storm)
10 Dylan Napa (Qld, Roosters)
11 Matt Gillett (Qld, Broncos)
12 Boyd Cordner (NSW, Roosters)
13 Josh McGuire (Qld, Broncos)
14 Michael Morgan (Qld, Cowboys)
15 Tyson Frizell (NSW, Dragons)
16 Jake Trbojevic (NSW, Sea Eagles)
17 Josh Jackson (NSW, Bulldogs)
By Brad Walter | @BradWalterSport
Chief Correspondent, RLWC2017