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As the only surviving member of Mal Meninga's first Australian team in 2016, Josh Papalii was determined not to miss his Kangaroos recall against New Zealand and will play through the pain of a rib cartilage injury after surviving a searching fitness test on Thursday.

Papalii, who has forced his way back into the Australian team after a season which earned him the tag as the NRL's best prop, grimaced after a heavy tackle by Kangaroos second-rower at Kiama while the Canberra star admitted he had taken it easy during pad work with 18th man Cameron Murray.

"I was just a bit lazy there but I am fine, I have got no problems and I ready to go," Papalii said. "I am really excited to play alongside some great players. I haven't played in this team since 2016, it has been a long time but I have worked hard to try and get back into the squad."

The Kangaroos, Jillaroos and Australia A.
The Kangaroos, Jillaroos and Australia A. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

It may have only been three years since Papalii last wore a green and gold jersey but there has been such a turnover of talent that Meninga and his coaching staff reinforced to the Kangaroos and Australia A players the principals of 'The Rise' he initiated before the 2016 Anzac Test.

Meninga had just taken over as Australian coach after three consecutive losses to the Kiwis, and the team for that match in Newcastle comprised of Darius Boyd; Semi Radradra, Greg Inglis, Josh Dugan, Blake Ferguson; Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk; Matt Scott, Cameron Smith, Paul Gallen, Josh Papalii, Matt Gillett, Corey Parker; Josh McGuire, Michael Morgan, James Tamou and Sam Thaiday.

The 2016 Kangaroos squad.
The 2016 Kangaroos squad. ©NRL Photos

Only Papalii remains in the side that will line up against New Zealand at WIN Stadium on Friday night and there are 17 new faces in the inaugural Australia A team that will play France in a triple-header, which includes the Jillaroos-Kiwi Ferns Test as the main curtain-raiser.

The two teams spent Tuesday together in Kiama, with Meninga overseeing a meeting of the wider playing group at which he outlined the purpose of the Australia A concept and discussed 'The Rise', before a joint training session.

Officially there was no score kept during their 25-minute opposed session but onlookers reported a narrow win to the Australia A team, whose players were told they are effectively part of an extended squad and were in line for berths on next year's Kangaroo Tour to Great Britain.

Meninga, the only man to have been on four Kangaroos tours as a player, was determined when he took over as coach in 2016 to instil an appreciation of Australia's Test history among the current generation of players.

Ponga explains why Aussie A squad buy into new concept

Each member of the Australia A squad was given the task of researching a former Kangaroo and they had to provide details at Tuesday's meeting about the careers of their chosen player, who ranged from modern great Bradley Clyde to pre-WWII Immortal Dave Brown.

“We looked at the stories of the boys who are in the jerseys at the moment and for us it was about learning about people who have been there before us," Australia A five-eighth Kalyn Ponga said.

"There is a lot of respect for the people who have worn the jersey before us and it makes us feel more honoured. It was awesome to sit there and hear some good stories and we trained against them. They are at the top level and we want to be like them."

With the introduction of the Australia A concept, each player will be awarded a number, starting with captain David Fifita at No.1 and vice-captain Brodie Croft as No.2 before descending in alphabetical order.

Cotric breaks ice with Roosters in Kangaroos camp

The Australia A team replaces the Junior Kangaroos and will be limited to players under the age of 23, in line with the England Knights model. It is expected that New Zealand will also introduce an under 23s team and there will be regular matches.

Australia A coach Neil Henry admitted there had been concerns about whether players would embrace the concept as there were often withdrawals from Junior Kangaroos teams but the fact they could see a direct pathway to the Test team had proven a lure.

"There is a Kangaroo Tour next year followed by a World Cup and Mal was really keen to have an older age group so they really are the emerging Kangaroos," Henry said. "The boys have all bought into it, they have all made themselves available and they are proud to wear Australia's colours.

"A lot of these guys have played Junior Kangaroos before, there are Origin players so they really are just a step away from the Kangaroos. Mal has been very inclusive around the group and really trying to get a real Australia A feel about it.

"There has already been a changing of the guard at the Kangaroos level with the number of players who have retired from representative football or retired from the game and that is going to happen again so Mal is looking to these players to step up."

Kangaroos vice-captain Daly Cherry-Evans is the only member of the team to play the Kiwis who has celebrated his 30th birthday and after making his Test debut in 2011 he has had to bide his time behind Thurston and Cronk before finally feeling secure in the No.7 jersey.

"I got to learn off some of the greatest players that have ever been and I would like to think I have taken some of their leadership skills and displayed them in camp this week," Cherry-Evans said.

Match: Australia v New Zealand

Round 2 -

Full Time
Australia

Home Team

Australia

Scored 26 points
New Zealand

Away Team

New Zealand

Scored 4 points

Venue: WIN Stadium, Wollongong

Match broadcasters:

  • Nine Network
  • Foxtel
  • GEM

"It is definitely a new era, there are a lot of younger players in the side and to only have one player in their 30s just shows that there is a massive changing of the guard.

"Mal has created an environment where you understand the prestige of playing for your country and we all understand that as a player. We don't want to let Mal down and we don't want to let our team-mates down.

"I am proud of my role in the team and I can only hope that I am handing on my advice not to the younger players and they are learning something."