Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison took a particularly keen interest in this year's PM's XIII for the match against Papua New Guinea, lending a hand in deciding the make-up of the squad.
In previous years the PM's XIII team usually just received a stamp of approval from government, but Morrison, a long-term rugby league fan and a Cronulla tragic, was keen to leave his fingerprints on the team Mal Meninga will take to Papua New Guinea next week.
Four Cronulla players – Aaron Woods, Chad Townsend, Jesse Ramien and Matt Prior – have been included in the team, which is a mix of Junior Kangaroos, representative hopefuls and established top-line Test players.
Manly's Daly Cherry-Evans will captain the side in the No.7 jersey, the Queensland halfback partnering with rookie Cowboys playmaker Jake Clifford.
St George Illawarra's Zac Lomax was rewarded for his strong finish to the season, picked on the wing in a back line that includes Ramien, Brian Kelly, Nick Cotric and little-known Brisbane youngster Corey Allan, who has signed with South Sydney next year.
Billy Slater cleared of shoulder charge
Dragons halfback Ben Hunt will move into the hooking role, and will be vying for a utility spot on the bench for the October Tests against the Kiwis and Tonga in New Zealand given the likelihood Damien Cook claims the No.9 jersey vacated by the representative retirement of Cameron Smith.
David Klemmer will reunite with his former Canterbury front-row partner Aaron Woods in the pack which also includes Test hopefuls Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Jordan McLean and Prior.
Other players in line for the two Test matches against New Zealand and Tonga in Auckland in October are Jake Trbojevic, Tyrone Peachey and Tyson Frizell.
Brisbane's Gehamat Shibasaki, St George Illawarra's Reece Robson and North Queensland's Enari Tuala are among the rookies selected in the 21-man squad.
"Our northern neighbours are absolutely mad about rugby league," Morrison said.
"Most of them are Maroons supporters unfortunately but I have found out there's a few Sharks supporters up there too," he added before turning toward Meninga at their press conference on Wednesday announcing the squad.
"I had a few suggestions about his team and not having enough Sharks players in there, so there were a few late inclusions," the PM joked.
Meninga confirmed it was the first time in over a decade-long association with the PM's XIII trips that a Prime Minister had shown a keen interest.
"I can assure you the Prime Minister certainly had some input. He's been very strong about some members of the team," he said.
"I'd also hazard a guess the support for the Origin teams is now half-and-half following NSW winning this year's series."
An Australian PM's XIII women's squad will also travel with the men's team for the match against Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby on October 6.
World Cup-winning Jillaroo and Indigenous All Stars captain Rebecca Young has been chosen to captain the Australian PM's XIII Women's team, which features nine Dragons players.
Roosters get privacy bonus
The Sydney Roosters will be given complete privacy and the opportunity to keep secret the fitness of Cooper Cronk this week, largely thanks to upcoming demolition of Allianz Stadium.
They usually train at Moore Park on a field that is open to the public, however given the stadium will be knocked down after the Michael Buble concert next Friday, there is no limitation to how much the Roosters can use the facility.
Keary excited for Munster challenge
Generally the club is limited to one training session per week at Allianz to ensure the ground is kept in top condition for matches, however this week the Roosters will get to do everything behind closed doors.
It's expected they will opt against holding their captain's run at ANZ Stadium, where there will no doubt be plenty of people preparing for game day, and instead stick with Allianz Stadium where they know there will be no prying eyes.
Lo Surdo steps in for judiciary switch
There has been a lot of noise made about the NRL's decision to hold judiciary on Tuesday instead of Monday as Melbourne requested.
The NRL's legal counsel Peter McGrath notified head office a few weeks ago that he would be away during grand final week.
They then appointed Anthony Lo Surdo, who was the lawyer who acted on behalf of the NRL when Sia Soliola was hit with a five-game ban last year for a high tackle on Billy Slater.
On that night it took the judiciary panel, which consisted of the same three members for the Slater hearing last night, just eight minutes to impose a five-game ban.
Molly's mutt gets grand welcome
The NRL is going through all the official accreditation for the grand final. Even Ziggy - the dog of Aussie music icon and Storm tragic Molly Meldrum - will get a special pass to the big day.
Much ado about nothing, says Teddy
There has been a lot of talk about James Tedesco's form of late. However the Sydney Roosters fullback, who took out the RLPA's Players' Champion last year, admits the improvement hasn't been as big as everyone is making out.
"I agree. I think in this team, and when you're winning games, people start to notice your footy a bit more than what I was playing at the Tigers," he said.
"I don't think my game has changed that much. I think a few things I've adapted to. I'm playing in the middle and I'm playing out wide and have added a few more strings to the bow.
"But I think I was throwing those passes and running like I am previously. I think it just changes when you're doing it in big games - people notice more."
Roosters not so glamorous: Keary
There's a perception in the public that the Roosters, because of the wealth of talent in their roster, have the best of the best in every department.
Luke Keary certainly thought so when he signed to join the club in 2017. But he quickly learnt that perception didn't match reality.
"They didn't take me on a tour of the facilities. I wouldn't have signed if they showed me," Keary joked
"I honestly thought it was this big glamorous and glitzy club with the maddest facilities. But it's the total opposite. It's only a tiny group down there.
"Everyone is in together in this little building with this little gym and a couple of lockers. I wouldn't say it's the bare minimum but it's not as glamorous as everyone thinks."
Cordner won't pass up opportunity
Sydney Roosters captain Boyd Cordner was heavily criticised by Phil Gould before Origin, saying his game had stagnated over the last two or three years.
One of the criticisms was that he ran the same line every time, and never passed the ball.
Well, it appears that has changed over the last few months, with Cordner admitting he has made a conscious effort to utilise Latrell Mitchell, who has been the best centre in the competition throughout the second half of the year.
"With Latrell outside you there's a need to work out ways to try and get him in the best positions for him to capitalise on that," Cordner said.
"I'm really happy with where I've taken my game this year and where I'm at with my form. I've always had that [passing] in my game, it was just about executing it and the right timing.
"I suppose the way the game pans out, it comes down to a bit of coaching and them giving me the freedom to do that and add it to my game."
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.
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