Mal Meninga says he won’t be pleading with a host of dual-eligible NRL stars to pledge their allegiance to Australia ahead of the Rugby League World Cup.
The Kangaroos will end an exile stretching back to 2019 later this year when they head to England aiming to secure a third-straight world title.
The international game has been flipped on its head in recent years following the rise of Tonga, aided by switches of allegiance from New Zealand and Australia.
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The Kangaroos’ last game was a defeat to Tonga in Auckland and in that time the make-up of the NSW and Queensland State of Origin teams have undergone a big shake-up with nearly 50 per cent of NRL players having Pasifika heritage.
The likes of Junior Paulo, Jarome Luai, Brian To’o, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui (all Samoa), Xavier Coates (Papua New Guinea), Daniel Saifiti (Fiji) and David Fifita (Tonga) have become Origin regulars and now face a decision over their international eligibility between Australia and their respective Pacific nations.
In-form Parramatta prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard (Fiji), Josh Papalii (Samoa) and Valentine Holmes (Cook Islands) also have split allegiances, but Meninga said he wouldn’t be rolling out the red carpet to entice any player to play for the Kangaroos.
“If you have to be coerced into doing something, that’s not my way of picking the footy team,” he told AAP.
“If you’ve got a cap on thinking about the international game, it’s fantastic.
“If I put on my Australian cap, the numbers are diminishing but I’m still comfortable with the talent we have got coming out.
“I’ll never go and pursue players. You have got to be passionate about the green and gold. You shouldn’t have to be convinced to play for a footy team.
“That’s what happens at club footy, not at representative level.”
There will be no warm-up Test for Meninga’s side, who open their World Cup campaign with a potential banana skin game against Fiji at Headingley, although there is likely to be a Prime Minister’s XIII game in NRL grand final week.
The Kangaroos coach will name a shortlisted 50-man squad in July after the completion of Origin III before witling it down to 24 before the tournament.
Meninga will also have to find a new captain after Boyd Cordner’s retirement following successive concussions.
Daly Cherry-Evans and James Tedesco are the respective captains at Origin level, but Meninga claimed Nathan Cleary and Cameron Murray were firmly in his thinking.
“We’ve got to work our way through that,” he said.
“There’ll be recommendations because it’s a pretty prestigious job and the (Australian Rugby League) Commission will be responsible for that decision.
“We’ve got a few captains running around in the competition so that’s a good thing too.”