Damien Cook is in line to play for the Kangaroos.
Damien Cook is in line to play for the Kangaroos.

Blues trio first choice for Roos spine

NSW are set to take over the spine of the Kangaroos team with James Tedesco, Damien Cook and James Maloney in the box seat to replace Queensland's retired stars.

The trio were among 12 Blues and just five Queenslanders named in Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga's Origin merit squad on Sunday, after Brad Fittler's rookie-laden side claimed NSW's second series win in 13 years.

Meninga's merit team last year was a clear guide to World Cup selection, with 14 of the 17 named eventually playing some part in the Kangaroos' success.

This year shapes differently leading into Tests against New Zealand and potentially Tonga, with Meninga monitoring the performances of Aaron Woods, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Josh Dugan, Michael Morgan and Matt Gillett who played little or no part in Origin.

But it's the selection of Cook at hooker, Maloney at halfback and Tedesco on the bench of the merit team that are of most interest, given the gaps opened in the Australia side by the retirements of Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston and Billy Slater.

Mal Meninga is tipping NSW players to dominate the Australian line-up.
Mal Meninga is tipping NSW players to dominate the Australian line-up.

"Obviously it's a big indicator around our spine," Meninga said of the merit side.

"(Cook)'s in the box seat now (to replace Smith).

"He's playing for a successful club and had a successful series; all three games were quite good for him.

"He's a great ballrunner obviously. He's skilful though too and makes his tackles.

"He can kick as well and that's something I like in a No.9."

Notably, Maloney was named at halfback alongside Queensland's Cameron Munster at five-eighth - a clear indication of how Meninga could use the Blues playmaker in the future.

James Maloney has firmed for a Kangaroos spot. (Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
James Maloney has firmed for a Kangaroos spot. (Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

"I was very impressed with Jimmy through the series and his whole year," Meninga said.

"His game management and his ability to keep the team in games.

"There were parts of that second game in particular where his composure, kicking game and game management allowed NSW to stay in the game and eventually gave them the impetus to win it."

Meninga said Tedesco was the standout to become the next Kangaroos fullback after Slater was named in the merit side but won't feature in future Australia sides.

Kalyn Ponga could have shaped as another option this year given his impressive performance in Game Two but Meninga said he wouldn't challenge Tedesco for the role in 2018.

"(Tedesco) is the frontrunner, absolutely," Meninga said.

"He's been waiting in the wings and on the selection table around the No.1.

"Kalyn had one great game for the Maroons and is having a breakout year, really, with the Knights.

"He is certainly a player I'd guess will be the No.1 for Queensland next year, him and Val Homes will be pitching for that.

"Once he establishes himself as the No.1 for Queensland then he will go head-to-head with James Tedesco."



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