Kangaroos coach, Mal Meninga, has come to the defense of NSW’s captain and fullback, James Tedesco, saying that he would be the first player picked for Australia as well as captain. Tedesco was scrutinized for his performance in NSW’s 26-18 Origin I defeat on Wednesday night, with some suggesting that Latrell Mitchell would be a better choice for the must-win game two at Suncorp Stadium. However, Meninga, a proud Queenslander and former Origin coach, fervently defended Tedesco, with whom he works closely on the international stage.
Meninga also stated that the heavy Penrith influence in NSW’s attack may not have suited Tedesco, who had no such issues with the simple game plan adopted by the World Cup-winning Australians late last year, adding that if there was a Test this weekend, Tedesco would still be the Kangaroos’ captain and fullback. He explained that the Kangaroos focused their attack through the middle at the World Cup and then looked to their backs to chime in at the back of sets. Meninga also pointed out that it was unfair to single out Tedesco as the reason for NSW’s loss, with Queensland’s exceptional defense being a crucial contributing factor.
With the Blues needing to save the series and the Sydney Roosters spluttering on the NRL ladder, Tedesco is facing a challenging time in his career. Penrith great, Ryan Girdler, said on Triple M the day after the Adelaide loss that Tedesco’s involvement was, at times, more of a hindrance than help for Panthers halves Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai. Girdler suggested that in crucial moments, they get in each other’s way and it’s not clear who needs the ball and where it needs to go to. One left-field suggestion is to swap Mitchell and Tedesco in the final 15 minutes of game two to capitalize on Mitchell’s physicality. Nevertheless, Meninga expressed confidence in Tedesco’s ability and leadership and said he would be part of his plans for years to come.
Blues coach, Brad Fittler, had said before the series that he was often disappointed by how quickly NSW fans turned on their team, while Meninga said there was no way Queensland supporters would do the same. “No way. It’s emotional bullshit,” he said. “I actually thought Teddy’s effort levels were fantastic the other night – he tried his heart out. Because he got held up over the try line and was outjumped by [Lindsay Collins], some people think all of a sudden he isn’t playing well. It’s ridiculous. I know emotion gets involved, and people look for reasons why NSW lost the game. What about Queensland’s defence being exceptional? They didn’t give them too many opportunities.”