Roundtable: Australia's best 17
Australia made a strong start to their Four Nations campaign with a 54-12 win over Scotland, but the impressive performance only raised more questions about the Kangaroos' best line-up for the rest of the tournament.
So how should Australia line up for their remaining games? That's today's NRL.com roundtable topic.
Dominic Brock (NRL.com Production Editor): Today we're talking Australia's ideal Four Nations 17 following their pretty comfortable rout of Scotland. Let's start with the man of the match in that game, Matt Moylan. He's certain to lose fullback spot to established Maroons and Kangaroos No.1 Darius Boyd, who was rested first up. Will he take the bench utility spot off Michael Morgan?
Martin Gabor (National Correspondent): He might have been MOTM against Scotland, but I can't see Moylan in Australia's 17 this weekend against the Kiwis. It's a tough call given he had four try assists in the first half alone, but with a fresh Darius Boyd ready to go, he will be the unlucky guy to miss out.
Chris Kennedy (National Correspondent): I agree. Moylan was sublime against Scotland but Morgan is a better all-round utility as he covers back row and presents a bigger body. He basically covers the same positions as Moylan plus a few more. Darius is the Aussie fullback so Moylan probably has to bide his time.
Adrian McMurray (NRL.com Producer): I'd love to find a place in the 17 for Moylan, and even though he could in theory take Morgan's spot as the bench utility, the North Queensland five-eighth has done enough in the representative arena to warrant selection for the New Zealand Test. What happens from there is anyone's guess.
Jack Brady (National Correspondent): You have to remember too, they were playing Scotland. Not exactly the best measuring stick to compare him to Darius Boyd – who in my opinion has been the best representative player this year.
CK: Yep. Darius has excelled for Australia and Queensland over the past 12 months. There's no way you're dropping him because Moysa had a great game against Scotland. Still, it's excellent for the squad's depth to know Moylan can come in and play like that.
MG: And with Thurston set to return, I can't imagine Moylan would have the same impact on that left edge this weekend.
CK: Good point. The Moylan-Maloney combination was brilliant but Maloney also won't be there this weekend.
AM: Excellent point, Martin. The dynamic of the side completely changes when Thurston, Inglis and co. return.
DB: OK let's take a look at the back row. Tyson Frizell starred on debut for NSW this season and for Australia against New Zealand and then Scotland. Does he keep a spot in the 17 or lose out with fellow second-rowers Boyd Cordner and Matt Gillett set to return? Is Sam Thaiday the man to miss out?
CK: Frizell has made himself close to un-droppable but it's pretty hard to fit him, Cordner, Thaiday and Gillett all into the side. The fact Thaiday and Frizell can both play middle may help though.
JB: They will all be there in my opinion. Shannon Boyd and Jake Trbojevic will miss out. Leaving Frizell on the bench with Thaiday and Klemmer. Cordner and Gillett will start.
MG: I don't often say this, but I agree with Jack. Who starts at lock then? Merrin?
JB: Merrin at lock, yeah and obviously Woods starts in the front row alongside Matt Scott.
CK: Frizell and Cordner basically have the same preferred role in the same spot – left edge back row – though Friz can play right or middle. I think that leaves Cordner to start with Thaiday, and Gillett and Friz to come off the bench. Merrin at lock, Scott and Woods in the front row, Klemmer and Morgan the other two benchies.
Thaiday was quiet against Scotland but he plays better in bigger games and has been a rock for Aus and Qld for a long time. He's only 31 so there's no way Mal will pension him off at this stage.
AM: You guys are reading my mind. That pack looks rock solid. Boyd hasn't done too much wrong, but it'd be tough to leave Frizell out.
JB: Boyd didn't do much against Scotland. I actually asked you Adrian if he was actually playing, if you remember.
AM: I do remember that Jack (although I don't really remember too much else from those early-morning starts!), he didn't really get too much of a chance and was to an extent overshadowed by his more experienced teammates.
CK: Shannon Boyd has been good but it's been more about getting some experience. He's not yet in the Kangaroos' best full-strength 17.
MG: He more than held his own against the Kiwis in Perth, but I can't see him getting another run this weekend.
CK: Does that cover the forwards? Seems like we're in agreement. Should we move out to the flanks?
DB: Yep the most contentious area of the Kangaroos side is probably in the outside backs. Greg Inglis will return at left centre, leaving Josh Dugan, Justin O'Neill and Blake Ferguson to fight for the other spot. Meanwhile Ferguson, Josh Mansour and Valentine Holmes have all played on the wing in recent matches. Who misses out?
CK: With Brett Morris currently on an injury hiatus and Semi Radradra given some time out for off-field issues, Josh Mansour is the first winger picked IMO. He was unstoppable against Scotland with some ludicrous stats (250-ish metres, two tries, nine tackle busts) and it wasn't even an unusual performance by his standards. The question for me is who is best on the right wing.
JB: Valentine Holmes.
CK: Ferguson is the incumbent and was good against Scotland. Holmes is the only specialist right wing in the squad and was brilliant against the Kiwis. It would be a tough call but I'd have Holmes over Ferguson.
MG: In the spirit of Melbourne Cup day, Josh Mansour is my best bet to play on the left wing. Ordinarily I'd have Holmes ahead of Ferguson, but I get the feeling this is a combination they are willing to persist with.
JB: Holmes is actually a winger. Ferguson came into the Australian side because it was assumed he had a combination with Josh Dugan. It doesn't seem to be the case. The only reason I would have Ferguson in the Australian side next weekend is because Josh Dugan is ruled out.
CK: Yeah it's not like that's been a world-beating combination in any of their three Tests.
AM: I'd bring Holmes back in as well, but given Meninga's preference of partnering Ferguson with Dugan, will he break that combination for the first time since taking over as Kangaroos coach? He probably should, but it remains to be seen whether he will.
CK: As Dom said GI is clearly the left centre. So does O'Neill have a case to take Dugan's spot or would you even contemplate Ferguson – who prefers centre – in that spot inside Holmes?
DB: CK I'd still have Dugan over O'Neill for the other centre spot.
CK: O'Neill (specialist centre) and Holmes (specialist winger) would have a stronger case if not for incumbency. Dugan is a great player, a Test-quality player, but I find him tough to fit in. His passing and ball-playing is below what we expect from rep-level centres and fullbacks and his positional play on the wing probably leaves him behind the other guys as a winger too.
DB: Yeah I get that, but rate Dugan's running game and defence as pretty damn solid. As you say if O'Neill had been around at this level a bit longer he may be in front in the pecking order.
CK: To be honest if I was in Meninga's shoes I think I'd stick with Dugan too. I'm just saying other guys have a pretty strong case to be considered.
DB: Sure. So, can we come up with our preferred Kangaroos 17, based on this chat? And how much we expect it to differ from Meninga's lineup?
CK: I reckon we'd all pick something similar and aside from the fact Mal will stick with Ferguson over Holmes, we'd all go pretty close to the actual team.
JB: 1. Darius Boyd, 2. Josh Mansour, 3. Greg Inglis, 4. Josh Dugan, 5. Valentine Holmes, 6. Johnathan Thurston, 7. Cooper Cronk, 8. Aaron Woods, 9. Cameron Smith, 10. Matt Scott, 11. Matt Gillett, 12. Boyd Cordner, 13. Trent Merrin. Interchange: 14. Michael Morgan, 15. David Klemmer, 16. Tyson Frizell, 17. Sam Thaiday.
AM: Looks good to me.
CK: Yep. That's probably my top 17 at the moment.
MG: It's the team I'd pick, but I think Fergo will get the nod over Holmes.
DB: So that wraps up our audition to be Kangaroos selectors. We'll have another chat this week about England's (slim) chances after their narrow loss to the Kiwis. Thanks guys.
JB: Thanks mate. Have a lovely one.