Coach Mal Meninga believes returning forward Paul Gallen will bring a hard edge to the Kangaroos that has been missing in recent matches, and says he had no qualms about picking Semi Radradra in his inaugural Australian Test team.
Radradra is one of up to four players set to make their green and gold debuts in Mal Meninga’s first game as Kangaroos coach against New Zealand on Friday week.
The Fijian flyer was named in an 19-man squad on Tuesday that also included rookies Blake Ferguson, Michael Morgan and Josh McGuire.
Radradra nominated for Kangaroos selection earlier this month after qualifying under residency requirements. He has previously played four Tests for Fiji.
“He is the best winger in the competition, that is why he is there,” Meninga said on Tuesday’s announcement at Rugby League Central.
“It is my job to coach the Australian side and pick the best players available. He wants to play for Australia … I didn’t coerce him to play for Australia.”
Gallen returns after a two-year absence.
“He deserves it,” Meninga said.
“We need a hard edge that has been missing the last few games. That leadership and that hard edge that he brings to the team are important.
Former Queensland coach Meninga has named 12 Maroons, five players from NSW and Fijian-born Radradra in the squad. He said he didn’t expect criticism of the team along state lines.
“I have picked the best players available,” Meninga said.
“I don’t think anyone can blue about it.
Former Canberra bad boys Josh Dugan and Ferguson will be reunited on the Kangaroos’ right edge.
The match at Newcastle’s Hunter Stadium on May 6 is the 131st between the Kangaroos and the Kiwis.
Australian 19-man squad: Darius Boyd, Semi Radradra, Greg Inglis, Josh Dugan, Blake Ferguson, Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk, Matt Scott, Cameron Smith (capt), Paul Gallen, Josh Papalii, Matt Gillett, Corey Parker. Interchange (from): Josh McGuire, Michael Morgan, James Tamou, Sam Thaiday, Aidan Guerra, Michael Jennings.