Injuries to incumbent Kangaroos Aaron Woods and Will Chambers have thrown the selection door for Mal Meninga’s first Test as Australian coach wide open.
And Wests Tigers star fullback James Tedesco could become a major beneficiary.
Australia kick off Meninga’s reign against the Kiwis in Newcastle on May 6, as he attempts to reinstate the Kangaroos as the world’s premier side after three successive losses to New Zealand.
Chambers and Woods both played in the Kangaroos’ last Test – Tim Sheens’ final match as coach in last year’s Anzac Test – but both will miss next month’s encounter due to ankle injuries.
Only Cooper Cronk, Johnathan Thurston and Greg Inglis are assured of retaining their positions in the backline.
Darius Boyd, missing last year due to an Achilles injury, will likely be there, but both he and Inglis might be overlooked for the No.1 jumper in Billy Slater’s absence.
Meninga indicated in February that Tedesco, who has been one of the NRL’s leading players over the first six rounds, could make his international debut at the back.
“If someone like Tedesco or (Matt) Moylan is coming through and deserves to be fullback, we can put Greg (Inglis) at left centre and Darius Boyd plays on the wing,” Meninga told AAP.
That was before Meninga was a centre down due to Chambers’ injury. Either way the former Queensland mentor has plenty to think about.
Alex Johnston and Josh Dugan are the wing incumbents, however neither are assured of selection.
Johnston has thus far this season failed to replicate the form that thrust him onto the representative scene, while St George Illawarra fullback Dugan was caught out of position several times playing on the flank last year.
James Tamou will likely take Woods’ starting prop spot alongside North Queensland teammate Matt Scott, with captain Cameron Smith wedged between.
Corey Parker will probably keep his lock spot and Greg Bird’s role in Gold Coast’s impressive early season should earn him his second-row jumper.
Paul Gallen wasn’t available last year due to a leg injury, and could slot into the other second-row position, pushing Sam Thaiday onto the bench where he starts for Brisbane now.
Meninga’s bench is also up for grabs. Luke Lewis was passed over for NSW selection last year and Trent Merrin and Nate Myles need some big efforts before the team is picked on May 1.
Matt Gillett, Josh McGuire and David Klemmer could have already done enough to move past them.
Thaiday feels he has done enough to earn selection.
“I’ve got a couple more games to go to prove my worth to be selected, but I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong not to be picked,” he said.