Mal Meninga remains a big fan of Valentine Holmes, with the Kangaroos coach insisting the winger didn’t deserve to be dumped from Australia’s Pacific Championships campaign for a “stupid mistake”.
Holmes will play his first match in almost three months when he lines up against New Zealand at AAMI Park on Saturday night, while Melbourne’s Cameron Munster looks set to start at five-eighth following a bout of illness during the week.
Holmes, 28, was fined and suspended for one match by the NRL for posting an image on social media in September of him holding a small bag containing white powder.
He had already been sidelined for the final four games of North Queensland’s season due to a high-tackle ban.
While opinions have been split over Holmes’ Australia selection, Meninga said the World Cup winger had paid the penalty for his actions.
“I’m an admirer of Val. He made a stupid mistake but he’s taken ownership over that and he’s paid his penalty,” Meninga told reporters in Melbourne.
“There is a redemptive feature to anyone in life, so you get these chances and Val will grab his chance tomorrow night.
“He was part of our World Cup campaign. He’s been part of the Australian set-up for a number of years, since 2016, and he’s playing his 20th game which is a huge milestone.
“He’s never let his country down, his state down or his club down.
“He made a silly error, a poor decision, but that shouldn’t count against him to be picked in this footy team.”
Munster was quarantined through the week with the flu but completed training in Melbourne on Friday, even staying late to complete extra work.
Cronulla playmaker Nicho Hynes had been on stand-by but looks set to make his Kangaroos debut via the bench as planned.
Even before training, Meninga had been hopeful Munster would line up.
“He wants to play so it’s just up to his energy levels and to see if he’s up to a Test match,” the coach said earlier on Friday.
Australia and New Zealand are already confirmed to meet in the final of the Pacific Championships, having each defeated Samoa to seal their place in the decider.
Ahead of the match against the Kiwis in Melbourne, Meninga rejected suggestions the Kangaroos would keep some tricks up their sleeve with one eye on the final.
“Our players are putting their country’s colours on and we want to play well,” Meninga said.
“The expectation is that we go out there and play our best footy.
“We know that it’s always going to be a challenge when we play the Kiwis. It’s a great rivalry.”