Australia coach Mal Meninga has backed Latrell Mitchell to respond from a “torrid” year after he was overlooked for a Kangaroos squad that included Josh Addo-Carr and Valentine Holmes.
Addo-Carr’s availability for the Pacific Championships is up in the air after he was involved in a brawl at the Koori Knockout on NRL grand final weekend.
Meninga also named Holmes despite the fact he is unavailable for their tournament opener against Samoa in Townsville on October 14 due to a one-match suspension.
Holmes was investigated by the NRL integrity unit after he posted a photo of himself on Instagram, posing with a bag of white powder.
“We’re not going to comment on the Addo-Carr situation because it’s with the integrity unit, and we’ll let them do their investigation,” ARL Commission chair Peter V’landys said.
Mitchell, who was one of Meninga’s most valuable players in last year’s Rugby League World Cup, also played at the Koori Knockout.
Meninga said he was surprised to see him feature, given Mitchell’s club, South Sydney, had said he was unavailable for Kangaroos selection because of a finger injury.
”The club said that he’s out because of injury, so we’ve just gone with that,” Meninga said.
“I was a bit surprised, but the club gave him permission to do that.
“Knowing Latrell, he loves the Koori Knockout, he always gets involved, (he is) a very proud First Nations person.
“He’s got through that tournament well and I look forward to him having a good off-season and playing well next year.
“Off the back of the World Cup it was a pretty torrid year. He got his first injury through State of Origin in the training camp, and didn’t really seem to get going after that.
“He has had a bit of bad luck this year and I think the rest is going to do him the world of good, get his mind right and get his body right and be a force for the Rabbitohs next year.”
Adding to Meninga’s potential headaches is a knee injury to Nathan Cleary, with Penrith grand final star requiring scans once premiership celebrations subside.
The Panthers are unsure on the severity or nature of the injury, with the Clive Churchill Medalist left sore after wearing the brunt of a Payne Haas hip-drop tackle early in the 26-24 triumph.
Assuming Cleary is fit, Meninga said Cleary would get the nod ahead of Queensland halfback Daly Cherry-Evans to wear the No.7 jersey.
“Daly’s had an unbelievable year, but Nathan is at another level and he showed that on Sunday,” Meninga said.
“He’s the incumbent No.7, and loyalty plays its role as well.”
There was no room in Meninga’s squad for Dally M Medallist Kalyn Ponga, Penrith fullback Dylan Edwards or Brisbane whiz Reece Walsh, with James Tedesco retaining the captaincy.
There were, however, five Broncos players included in the squad, with Selwyn Cobbo, Payne Haas, Patrick Carrigan, Tom Flegler and Kotoni Staggs all selected.
Staggs and Dolphins flyer Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow have both elected to play for Australia, despite representing Tonga and Samoa respectively at last year’s World Cup.
Only three members of Penrith’s grand final-winning squad – Liam Martin, Isaah Yeo and Cleary – are named.
AUSTRALIA: Josh Addo-Carr, Patrick Carrigan, Daly Cherry-Evans, Nathan Cleary, Selwyn Cobbo*, Lindsay Collins, Reuben Cotter, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, Thomas Flegler*, Harry Grant, Payne Haas, Valentine Holmes, Ben Hunt, Liam Martin, Cameron Munster, Cameron Murray, Kotoni Staggs*, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow*, James Tedesco (c), Jake Trbojevic, Isaah Yeo.
(* denotes: potential debutant)