Mal Meninga backing spine to stand up for Kangaroos
KANGAROO great Mal Meninga says Australia's spine is strong enough to offset any inexperience or any lingering fears about its makeshift front row against a powerful New Zealand side in tonight's Four Nations clash at Suncorp Stadium.
Such is Australia's depth, bookmakers believe it will overcome the absence of specialist Cowboys props Matt Scott and James Tamou and the vast experience of fullback Billy Slater (25 Tests) and the ever-reliable Johnathan Thurston (32 Tests) and retain the title it won so comprehensively against the Kiwis in the UK last year.
Given Australia's spine will be Greg Inglis, captain Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Thurston's replacement, Daly Cherry-Evans - all members of his record-breaking Queensland State of Origin squad - it's little wonder Meninga, who played 46 Tests and 32 Origins, is so confident of a Kangaroos victory.
Meninga, though, believes it will be NSW forward Aaron Woods, making his debut in the green and gold, who could help lay a platform for Australia's slick backline to strut its stuff, particularly another young rookie, Dylan Walker, who like his centre partner Michael Jennings is like greased lightning with an equally lethal side-step.
"Aaron (Woods) played Origin this year," Meninga told APN as members of his successful 1994 Kangaroos gathered for a 20-year anniversary to support Australia this weekend.
"If you can play Origin you can play Test football in my opinion.
"(It's a) Fairly experienced forward pack with a little bit of inexperience in the backs, but they've got good halves (Cooper Cronk and Daly Cherry-Evans), the fullback (Greg Inglis) is a great player and they've got Cameron Smith calling the shots, so their spine in pretty strong.
"I'm expecting they will live up to all expectations of an Australian side.
Former Brisbane centre Steve Renouf, a rookie on the 1994 Kangaroos tour, said Walker had a similar opportunity to the one he was given 20 years ago.
"I toured that year (1994) and got to play in the centres with my idol, Mal Meninga," recalled Renouf, known simply as The Pearl for his silky skills.
"Just like it was for me back then, this is a great opportunity for some of these boys like Dylan Walker.
"He's had a great year and he's been very consistent right through the season and into the grand final. You know he's not going to let anyone down.
"It's an opportunity for him to go out here and show people want he can do at this level and I am sure he will."
Also: England v Samoa, 4pm