Mal: We’ll get better
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.’’
Kiwis centre Joseph Manu sets up a try for Jordan Rapana in the second half at Mt Smart Stadium last night.