The Kangaroos will be forced to apply for special dispensation to bring in a World Cup replacement player, should they be forced into any changes following Saturday’s three-way warm-up match against Fiji and Papua New Guinea.
Final 24-man squads for the tournament must be lodged by Friday, a day before the warm-up game in Fiji, and last-minute adjustments through injury or otherwise will need to be approved by World Cup officials before being given the green light.
If necessary, n coach Mal Meninga would therefore be required to scour a weakened NRL player pool to bolster his side given so much talent has already committed to smaller World Cup nations.
He would likely favour players from clubs which made a deep run into the NRL finals and who would still retain a higher degree of match fitness to carry them through the near six-week long tournament.
Meninga’s 24-man squad touched down in Suva on Thursday afternoon to prepare for their only World Cup warm-up fixture. , Fiji and Papua New Guinea will play three 40-minute periods against each other in a unique format that Meninga and other Kangaroos staff have been toying with for some time.
The players fly back to on Monday for a short break before reconvening to prepare for their first pool game against England in Melbourne on October 27.
Two changes have already been forced upon Meninga after a chaotic few days last week.
Reagan Campbell-Gillard was drafted in for Andrew Fifta after the Cronulla prop’s defection to Tonga, while Josh Mansour came in to replace the injured Darius Boyd.
Fifita’s shock decision to forego the green and gold followed Jason Taumalolo’s decision to pull out of the New Zealand squad to play for Tonga.
Both players have been subjected to much criticism for taking advantage of the flexible World Cup eligibility rules, but Kangaroos prop Aaron Woods welcomed the initiative taken by both players.
“It’s pretty cool, there are second-tier teams in the World Cup and all it’s going to do is strengthen them,” Woods said.
“It’s a good thing for rugby league, especially the likes of Jason Taumalolo and the likes of Fifita, David Fusitu’a playing for Tonga, and they’re going to be a real strong side.
“People are going to have an eye on those teams now whereas before they probably didn’t know too many of their names, but now they’ve got the big headliners in their side so it’s going to be interesting to watch.”
Fresh from captaining the Prime Minister’s XIII against Papua New Guinea three weeks ago in Port Moresby, Woods will play his first game in Fiji.
He was part of an 89-strong touring party which included players, families, staff and media.
Their chartered jet was met with a rousing reception at the airport in Fiji, and the travellers treated to a native dance on arrival to their accommodation.
“This is the first time it’s happened for myself, seeing all the boys with their little kids it’s pretty cool, and their partners as well,” Woods said.
“We’re going to to go away on a six-week tour, that’s if we make the final. It’s good to take the partners away now, give them a bit of a relaxation holiday while we train and play.
“The biggest thing to us is to enjoy our down time but when we’re out on the training paddock and in meetings and we’re about to play, we’ve got to switch on. That’s what Mal does really well here.
“He’s given us the respect by letting us bring our families over and we’ve got to repay the faith by playing some good footy and showing up ready to go.”