Soward: How do Roos replace 162 Tests of playmaking champions?

Australia's playmakers have an incredible opportunity, and a potentially daunting responsibility, as we gear up for two end-of-year Tests.

By mid-November the Kangaroos will be halfway through the next World Cup cycle, and we'll be off to the UK in 2021 for the first time in a generation without four absolute champions.

Between them Cameron Smith (56 Tests), Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk (both 38 Tests) and Billy Slater (30) racked up 162 appearances in the green and gold, and all will feature in Immortal discussions into the future.

162 Tests. To truly put that in perspective, Cameron Smith only missed one single Test between his 2006 debut and bowing out with World Cup glory in 2017.

Their replacements against New Zealand next week are expected to be James Tedesco (two Tests), Cameron Munster (two), Daly Cherry-Evans (13) and Damien Cook (two).

162 Tests up against 19.

Cooper Cronk's international retirement left a hole in the Kangaroos side.
Cooper Cronk's international retirement left a hole in the Kangaroos side. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

I’ll be keeping a close eye on how this spine gels not just against New Zealand and Tonga, but also looking ahead to next year's Great Britain tour heading into a 2021 World Cup which is again in the UK.

We need to be patient with them. We've had four of the best ever players in our game, playing together for over a decade.

Not just for Australia either but for Queensland as well, and again at club level as "The Big Three" for Melbourne.

That's over 10 years to generate their rhythm in attack and know each other's games.

Personally I'm keen to see how Munster and DCE play together off the back of this year's Origin, while also looking to incorporate the speed and smarts of Cook around the ruck, and also the best player in the world in Tedesco.

It's fun and exciting to watch a new spine develop there, especially with that even split of New South Welshmen and Queenslanders.

Luke Keary, of course comes into the mix but has his ankle concern after the grand final.

It's a very interesting time for Australia's playmakers, and a great shift in the dynamic of international rugby league.

Next year's Great Britain tour will see fierce competition for Australian spots as well. On top of that, Wayne Bennett is doing some impressive things with the English and Lions teams.

The Kangaroos will still be favourites for that World Cup, as they should be.

I'm keen to see how Munster and DCE play together off the back of this year's Origin

But the English will also fancy themselves as a threat, especially on home soil. By then they'll have had a very solid two-year build-up to the tournament.

They'll love being in their own conditions and not having to travel, which means they won't have to deal with the Australian heat, and have some key players emerging as genuine stars on both sides of the globe.

Bennett is the man marshalling it all with the magic touch and I imagine the 2021 World Cup could be his last commitment. The super coach would love nothing more than to bow out with an upset of the Kangaroos.

New Zealand and Tonga too will be the other heavyweights, but both teams need to develop an organising half to take advantage of their first-class forward packs.

Eels five-eighth Dylan Brown.
Eels five-eighth Dylan Brown. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

I don't see Benji Marshall playing past next year so maybe Dylan Brown is the man to take on that role for the Kiwis alongside Shaun Johnson. But it is a big ask for a kid who has a lot of potential, but it is still yet to debut.

Which brings us back to Australia again. You couldn't ask for a better leader to replace Cameron Smith than Boyd Cordner.

And it will fall to guys like Tyson Frizell (12 Tests), Jake Trbojevic (six Tests) and David Klemmer (17 Tests) to help fill those leadership roles around the spine.

And it's Australia's playmakers, filling some admittedly huge shoes, with the biggest opportunity of all.

 

The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.