Fifita still has Kangaroos future: Meninga
Andrew Fifita's surprise switch to Tonga for the upcoming Rugby League World Cup won't count against him in terms of future Kangaroos selection, according to Australia coach Mal Meninga.
The damaging Sharks prop was named by Meninga in his 24-man squad on Tuesday before calling his coach on Thursday morning to announce he would be representing Tonga, for whom he played once back in 2010.
Meninga said he was supportive of Fifita following his heart and representing his family and would not be putting a red lone through Fifita's name in future years.
"He's made a decision with his heart and where his family roots lie so I'm comfortable with his decision," Meninga told NRL.com.
Meninga was emphatic the move wouldn't count against Fifita next time a Kangaroos side was picked.
"No [it won't] – It's a World Cup year as well which is a bit unique as well," Meninga said.
"I prefer him to go play with Tonga if that's where his heart is because I know that [replacement Reagan] Campbell-Gillard's heart is in the green and gold. He won't let us down."
Meninga said it had been tough to leave the in-form Penrith prop out of his original squad.
"I'm really excited about getting Campbell-Gillard an opportunity in the green and gold jersey too," Meninga added.
"I thought he was terrific at the back end of the year and it was difficult to leave him out of the team initially so it gives him an opportunity which is fantastic, I'm excited by it and you can see he's excited by being here."
Meninga also spoke of the selfless decision of Darius Boyd to pull out of the squad when it became clear he would not be fit for the first game of the tournament against England on October 27.
"It was a tough decision with 'Darbs', he desperately wanted to play but in conversation with our medical staff he was very honest in his appraisal and put the team first and made the tough decision to pull out," Meninga said.
"He wouldn't be back until maybe the France game [on November 3] or maybe even the Lebanon game [on November 11] so that's what the prognosis was and then there was still a risk so it's a long-term injury and we're better off bringing someone in that's fit and healthy and Darbs can get on with his recovery and not jeopardise his playing future by doing something more serious with the injury."
Fifita's switch from Australia to Tonga means Tonga now have a formidable squad, with grand finalist and 2016 Dally M medallist Jason Taumalolo also stunning the Kiwis with his defection to the Mate Ma'a. A host of other New Zealand-eligible players like Eel Manu Ma'u, Rooster Sio Siua Taukeiaho, former Rooster Sam Moa and Wests Tigers playmaker Tui Lolohea have also declared for Tonga.
"It's exciting for all the fans," Meninga said.
"A Rugby League World Cup is a celebration of rugby league and what's great about our game.
"It gives everyone an opportunity to participate in it, including the players that mightn't play for New Zealand or Australia or England through the normal years. It spreads [the talent] out. It will be a great pool with New Zealand and Tonga! It will be interesting to see how those games pan out.
"It will be interesting to see what the Samoan team comes up with, they'll be very strong as well, and Scotland [in the same pool]. It will be the battle of the Pacific Islands, it will be fantastic."
The Kangaroos next fly up to Brisbane before heading over to Fiji next Wednesday for the October 14 exhibition match featuring two 40 minute halves – one each against Fiji and Papua New Guinea.
"Everyone's fit and healthy now, we go to Fiji and have a trial match against PNG and Fiji which is unique, it's exciting, 40 and 40," Meninga said.
"For us it's unique, something different and I think it's a good way to get all the cobwebs out, certainly for the players that haven't played for a while.
"We want to try and promote the game in the Pacific Islands, Fiji's looking at getting a team together and hopefully playing the Intrust Super Premiership here in the NSW competition. Anything we do to help promote the game in the Pacific is excellent and I know the players are looking forward to going over there. Fiji's a great spot."
Meninga said the grand final players – the seven Storm representatives and Cowboy Michael Morgan – may mostly be rested for the trial fixture.
"They may get a rest which leaves us still with a good squad that can get through the two lots of 40 minutes," he said.