Rising NRL stars Nathan Cleary, Jayden Brailey, Latrell Mitchell, Kalyn Ponga and Brodie Croft could be among the first players named in Mal Meninga’s inaugural “Emerging Roos” squad.
Australia coach Mal Meninga is planning to help the national team’s development from next year in the same vein as the Origin emerging squads that NSW and Queensland have facilitated over the year.
Unlike the Queensland and NSW squads which don’t play matches, Meninga wants the Emerging Roos to play as an “Australia A” team as well as attending training camps and be part of introductory sessions on the Kangaroos culture.
An added bonus would be that the extra games would help the game grow in the Pacific region.
The international calendar for the Kangaroos is depleted next year as there is no mid-year Test, and no Four Nations tour post-season. There is a one-off Test against New Zealand earmarked for October.
“The welfare of the players is obviously important so there’s only one Test match against New Zealand next year. But we can create some other events around an Emerging Roos program,” Meninga told NRL.com.
“We’ve already got the Prime Minister’s XIII game against Papua New Guinea at the back end of the season, so my thought is we can use that as a bit of a trial for the Kiwis game, or we use it as an opportunity to blood new players in an emerging-type of contest.
“I wouldn’t mind playing a second game involving Australia A around the Pacific somewhere as well, maybe play it in New Zealand against an emerging team of their own or another island nation.
“We just want to keep playing international games on the back of this World Cup’s obvious success. It’s proved popular here and in PNG and New Zealand so we want to keep propagating the game around the Pacific.”
Meninga said an Australia A team would not replace the Schoolboys or Junior Kangaroos programs, arguing there was a gap for players who no longer qualified for the age-restricted teams that needed to be filled.
“I coached the initial PM’s team but now as Test coach I want to keep putting international league out there in front of everyone,” Meninga said. “We don’t have to play the best teams or play our best players all the time. It’s about still playing games so we see our young and exciting talent moving forward.
“So that’s why I mention names like Brailey, Cleary, Mitchell and the like.
“The QRL and NSWRL already have their emerging programs and have identified all these great kids. But we’re more about playing games than having all these [development] camps. These kids would now start to play at an international level.”
Any Emerging Roos named would not be locked into playing for Australia.
“I’m a fan of the idea that if someone isn’t picked in a tier-one team then they can be part of a tier two. We’ve got to see our best players in those developing nations. That’s very important,” Meninga said.
“I’d like to keep it going, especially on the back of how good Tonga is going, how exciting to see PNG make the quarter-finals, and how popular Fiji has become. Samoa is going to be our (Kangaroos) opposition in the quarter-finals on Friday in Darwin and that’s no easy task for us.
“We need to keep making rugby league popular in those countries and we need to start leaving money in those nations. That’s equally important for the game to develop home-grown talent.”
For many years, Brisbane Broncos coach Wayne Bennett led the Emerging Maroons through a four-day camp. Current Maroons coach Kev Walters has done it for the past two years, and former Blues coach Laurie Daley used to lead the NSW camps in conjunction with pathways coaches.
Meninga is open to any suggestions on who should look after Australia A.
“You could use it to develop your next crop of international coaches,” he said. “It would depend on what the game wanted but it could be a NRL head coach or an independent coach. I’m also a big fan of having former players from Test level being brought back in as these kinds of development coaches.”
The next step for Meninga is to finish his World Cup commitments and then put a detailed Emerging Roos program together for the ARL Commission to consider.