Mal: We’ll get bet­ter

Sunday Star-Times - - LEAGUE - CHRISTIAN NICOLUSSI ❚ The Sun-Her­ald

Kan­ga­roos coach Mal Meninga walked into the post-match press con­fer­ence and an­tic­i­pated the blaz­ing Sun­day news­pa­per head­lines about his Kan­ga­roos team fi­nally be­ing vul­ner­a­ble.

No Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk, Johnathan Thurston and Billy Slater meant it was all doom and gloom for the top-ranked rugby league na­tion.

The 26-24 loss to New Zealand was cer­tainly go­ing to thrust the spot­light on that is­sue.

The de­bate will con­tinue should Tonga em­bar­rass Aus­tralia at a packed Mt Smart Sta­dium next Satur­day.

‘‘The pa­per to­mor­row will be talk­ing about the ‘Kan­ga­roos are vul­ner­a­ble’ and how it’s a stage of tran­si­tion,’’ Meninga said. ‘‘We have a bit of work to do but I can as­sure you we’ll be ready for next week.

‘‘We worry about [a mass turnover of play­ers] all the time as coaches. But I thought our prepa­ra­tions were ex­cel­lent this week. I thought ev­ery­one gelled well and was happy with the way we trained. It just didn’t work out to­day and the other side were too good.’’

Skip­per Boyd Cord­ner was never go­ing to blame the loss on the mass ex­o­dus, es­pe­cially the guid­ance around the ruck at such a cru­cial stage of the game that fu­ture Im­mor­tal Smith was al­ways known for. Damien Cook is a bril­liant player, but still needed a spell late in the sec­ond half as the Ki­wis sin­gled him out the No. 9 in at­tack.

With Luke Keary al­ready gone for the night with a con­cus­sion, the in­ter­change for Cook – one of the fittest play­ers in rugby league – was cru­cial. ‘‘You can’t re­place a bloke like Cam Smith, just his ex­pe­ri­ence and the player he is,’’ Cord­ner said.

‘‘He’s one of the best in the game. But we’ve picked a side who are in re­ally good form, and Damien Cook has been one of the best play­ers in the NRL this year. At the same time he doesn’t have the ex­pe­ri­ence of Cameron Smith, but he still turned up and did a re­ally good job for the Kan­ga­roos.’’

DLa­trell Mitchell, Keary, James Tedesco and Cook were the four new faces to usher in the new Kan­ga­roos era.

In Cook’s de­fence, he had made north of 40 tack­les by the hour mark and was pooped. Meninga knew a quick spell would mean he was fresh the fi­nal 10 min­utes.

Keary was knocked out at­tempt­ing a tackle on Kevin Proc­tor and failed to re­turn af­ter 13 min­utes. But he is in no doubt for Satur­day’s Ton­gan block­buster.

‘‘He’s quite co­her­ent. He’s a lit­tle dis­ap­pointed like the rest of us, but he’s fine,’’ Meninga said.

His com­bi­na­tion with the ‘Bondi mafia’ down the left, in­clud­ing Tedesco, Cord­ner and Mitchell, was awe­some to watch in the open­ing 10 min­utes.

The Mitchell and Joey Manu in­di­vid­ual bat­tle was also a high­light. Manu emerged the vic­tor for the wrong side.

Cord­ner said of his Roost­ers in­ter­na­tional debu­tants: ‘‘Joey was re­ally im­pres­sive the way he’s come on this year for us at the Roost­ers, es­pe­cially the back end of the NRL sea­son for us – he was enor­mous and a mas­sive rea­son we won the comp.’’

PHOTOSPORT

Ki­wis cen­tre Joseph Manu sets up a try for Jor­dan Ra­pana in the sec­ond half at Mt Smart Sta­dium last night.

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