World Cup 9s comes full circle under Meninga

The World Cup 9s concept has come a long way since we went to Fiji to play in a monsoon during the Super League era in 1996.

One thing that hasn't changed – or perhaps has come full circle – is that Mal Meninga was the coach.

I remember we went over, there was a cyclone in the Pacific and there was torrential rain. The comp still went ahead.

It was in the back of everyone's mind the whole time and team management had to monitor it because we didn't want to get caught in it and there were a few days where we thought we might have to go home.

I think we ended up getting out of there just before it hit which was quite scary.

It still ended up being a really good week in Suva. It was great to get immersed in the local culture as well which I see the team Mal has over there now for the PM's XIII tour is doing.

We had a really strong side with names like Michael Hancock, Wendell Sailor, Glenn Lazarus and Kevin Walters but New Zealand ended up playing really well and winning the tournament.

I like the look of the teams Mal has picked for the 2019 Nines and also for the PM's XIII game with a lot of potential future Test players and fringe players who would have just missed out on being in the senior squad getting a run.

I can't wait to see Kalyn Ponga play, I think everyone is looking forward to that.

David Fifita really deserves to be there as well. What a year he had for a 19-year-old.

He's a really good kid from Inala here in Brisbane and I'm so proud of what he's done.

Then you've got Ryan Papenhuyzen, look what he did for the Storm this year in such a short period. Mitch Moses killed it this year with his playmaking – you knew Parramatta was going to go well when he was playing well.

It's a great opportunity for AJ Brimson too. He's another really good kid and what an opportunity for him to get to wear the green and gold. He's a very good player and this will help him no end and it's good for the Gold Coast going forward as well.

Kyle Feldt is someone who can consider himself a bit unlucky when it comes to the representative arena so far. He's another one who could fit into a Test jersey quite easily. It shows the depth of talent that Australia has.

It's obviously a big part of Mal's long-term plan to get these next-generation guys around international footy and that flows through to the Junior Kangaroos moving up to an Under 23 side.

A team with Angus Crichton and Victor Radley in there with Ponga, Fifita and Papenhuyzen is going to be a really scary prospect for France, even with their top side. 

You can tell Mal is trying to put that pride back into the Australian jersey. I'm not saying the players of recent years weren't proud to play for Australia but it feels like Origin sort of took over for a bit in the past decade or so.

Playing for your country should be the ultimate achievement and that's what Mal is trying to instil.

 

For ticket and travel packages for the Downer Rugby League World Cup 9s Sydney 2019, head to nrl.com/tickets.