11 Nov 2022
Meninga backs Kangaroos skipper to have 'a big game' in semi-final
Australia's coach believes James Tedesco will rise to the occasion at Elland Road
By Paul Martin at Elland Road
James Tedesco will lead by example and rise to the occasion when the Kangaroos do battle with New Zealand for a place in the World Cup final, according to Mal Meninga.
Tedesco’s battle with Sydney Roosters clubmate Joey Manu is one of countless intriguing head-to-heads on display at Elland Road on Friday evening as the two nations meet for the first time since 2019.
The Kangaroos skipper will have to play a key role if his side are to keep the defence of their crown on track and he has the backing of his coach to do just that.
“His mannerisms, the way he’s carried himself, the way he speaks to the footy team – I think he’s going to have a big game,” Meninga said.
“He brings that experience, he understands big games and it is a big game for Australia.
“It’s a World Cup semi-final, we haven’t been in this situation for a long time. Only three of them have played in a World Cup semi before, so it’s a big game all around.
“Everyone is fully aware of the enormity of the challenge in front of us. It is a special game so you want to get yourself up for it.
“But it’s also about trying to relax and get yourself in a good headspace to play your best game.”
???? The Kiwis and Kangaroos are set for a classic on Friday night.
Australia haven't missed a World Cup final since 1954 – can New Zealand stop the run?
? 19:45 Friday, November 11 - Elland Road, Leeds#RLWC2021 | #AUSNZL | @Kangaroos @NZRL_Kiwis
— Rugby League World Cup 2021 (@RLWC2021) November 9, 2022
Meninga revealed at Thursday’s captain’s run that Ben Hunt will start at dummy-half, with Harry Grant to be introduced from the bench.
Making use of the same formula that helped Queensland to State Of Origin success earlier this year means no place in the matchday squad for Daly Cherry-Evans while up front, Australia welcome back Reagan Campbell-Gillard to help withstand a powerful Kiwi pack.
“He [Campbell-Gillard] is experienced, he was there in 2017 as well and he’s a leader of the pack,” Meninga added.
“He got unlucky last week with a cork but he’s an important cog in our forward pack.
“We’ll go with experience [at dummy-half]. Ben Hunt will start, it’s worked for Queensland and throughout this tour.
“Having that hooker rotation works well for the team and both of those guys.”
Australia have won eight of their last nine men’s Rugby League World Cup matches against New Zealand and have had a smoother route to the final, avoiding the kind of fright the Kiwis received against Fiji in the last eight.
But Meninga believes that stern test could work in New Zealand’s favour and has warned his side to be on their guard.
“That might have knocked their motivations back in place around the tournament and made them realise they need to knuckle down,” he said.
“They won’t need any more motivation to turn up and perform against us.”
The Rugby League World Cup promises to be the biggest, best and most inclusive event in the sport’s 127-year history with men’s, women’s and wheelchair teams competing in 61 games across 21 venues throughout England. Tickets are available via rlwc2021.com/tickets