Infotainment Factory: How missing legends will define Roos Test

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Friday, 12 October 2018

How missing legends will define Roos Test


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The calm and winning aura of Cameron Smith.

The assertive voice and looming footsteps of Billy Slater.

Johnathan Thurston’s breathtaking skill and unparalleled desire to compete and win.

The massive fend and instinctive finishing genius of Greg Inglis.

For the last 10 years, or more, everyone else who wore the green and gold of Australia could look to the left or the right of them and feel at ease.

They knew they were playing for the world’s best rugby league team, so even if they got behind on the scoreboard one or more of the four all-time greats next to them would pull the game out of the fire.

It’s a feeling of invincibility that Sam Thaiday was lucky enough to experience 32 times as his career ran parallel with the superstars who defined a golden generation.

We don’t yet know if Jake Trbojevic will be able to look back on his Kangaroos career in the same way, with the likes of Latrell Mitchell and young uncapped stars who are yet to fully emerge – perhaps a Nathan Cleary or an Ashley Taylor - still to carve out a legacy.

But what’s clear is that for the Kangaroos to continue to intimidate and steamroll their international competition, some of the biggest shoes in rugby league history need to be filled quickly.

A new era starts tonight, with Australia visiting trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand for a Test match that has rarely been so unpredictable.

Thaiday, whose representative career finished about 12 months before his retirement at the end of Brisbane’s recent finals campaign, is as curious as he is excited to see what the next generation will bring.

However he sees a good omen in their coach Mal Meninga, who took the reins of Queensland when a similar transitional period set up the most remarkable dynasty in State of Origin history.

“You look at Mal's track record of starting afresh and you look back to 2006 when he had to reshuffle and reshape the Queensland team and then went on to win eight series in a row, so yeah, he's really good at giving those young guys an opportunity and getting the best out of them,” Thaiday told Wide World of Sports.

“I don't know what the Queensland camps were like before Mal coached back in 2006 for the first time but even just the conversations he had with JT and Cam, there was a huge change in our camp lifestyle and the way we went about our business and Mal brought all those changes in.

“He did the same with the Australian team and I think he'll make sure all the young guys feel part of the team and want to go out there and play a great game of footy and keep that jersey.”

One of the few players who didn’t enjoy success with the Maroons during Meninga’s tenure was Daly Cherry-Evans, perhaps the most important player in a new-look spine that includes three debutants.

Cherry-Evans has always polarised and even as he gets his chance to stake a claim on a No.7 jersey that has been dominated by Cooper Cronk, negative headlines are following him out of the club that he’s captained to rock bottom.

It’s a far cry from the core of Storm superstars who almost always came into camp off the back of a grand final and Thaiday will be fascinated to see how the Queensland halfback handles it.

“I'm really happy DCE's got his chance, this year to come back into the Queensland side and then to get that Australian call up,” Thaiday said.

“Now Manly had a bit of an up and down year and probably shot themselves in the foot plenty of times with a lot of things they did. But it's good to see him get an opportunity and it’s completely up to him to take it and lock that jersey away until he finishes up.”

While Cherry-Evans faces the ever-present pressure of wearing the Kangaroos’ No.7 jersey, Boyd Cordner and Damien Cook have arguably the bigger shoes to try on for size.

Smith grew his legend as much as a captain as he did as a No.9 and splitting those roles between two will only spread the glare of the spotlight.

From a style perspective it will be chalk and cheese. Smith was a vocal leader, manipulating the referee and mastering the game situation.

According to Thaiday, and others, his pre-game speeches hit the mark every time and there was never any confusion about who owned the team when the superstar hooker was present.

Cordner is more a ‘follow me’ type of leader who will let others step forward when the talking needs to be done.

And as a No.9 you’re unlikely to see Cook step out of dummy half and launch a 40/20 attempt or kick on the third tackle to turn the opposition around.

According to Thaiday the danger for both players is that they try to emulate the legends they’re succeeding.

“Very, very different players and very, very different leaders,” Thaiday said.

“What Cordner does is he leads by example. As long as he's out there putting his body on the line, defending tough, he'll really lead the team in that way.

“I'm not really sure how he is in the way he speaks before a game but Cam's last address before you went out on the field was always inspirational and you wanted to play straight away.

“But I know Cordner will be out there really showing everyone that he deserves to be the Australian captain.” 

Whether or not the journey for this new Kangaroos side hits some bumps along the way, Thaiday is confident Meninga has the blueprint to avoid the kind of catastrophic dip that often strikes a team that loses a cluster of champions.

Most of all, Thaiday says Meninga has the ability to give his players the belief that they can create their own slice of history.

“Mal's really good at talking about the past and the journey of the Australian Kangaroos team and the battles that we've gone through in the past,” Thaiday said.

“And opening up to those young guys to start their own stories and have their own battles.

“I think that's what's really good, we've lost those older senior players but I think Mal will transition these new guys really well.

“Having Mal as a coach, he'll be drilling into them as much as possible to make sure to represent Australia to the best of their ability and go out there and do a great job.”

The calm and winning aura of Cameron Smith.

The assertive voice and looming footsteps of Billy Slater.

Johnathan Thurston’s breathtaking skill and unparalleled desire to compete and win.

The massive fend and instinctive finishing genius of Greg Inglis.

For the last 10 years, or more, everyone else who wore the green and gold of Australia could look to the left or the right of them and feel at ease.

They knew they were playing for the world’s best rugby league team, so even if they got behind on the scoreboard one or more of the four all-time greats next to them would pull the game out of the fire.

It’s a feeling of invincibility that Sam Thaiday was lucky enough to experience 32 times as his career ran parallel with the superstars who defined a golden generation.

We don’t yet know if Jake Trbojevic will be able to look back on his Kangaroos career in the same way, with the likes of Latrell Mitchell and young uncapped stars who are yet to fully emerge – perhaps a Nathan Cleary or an Ashley Taylor - still to carve out a legacy.

But what’s clear is that for the Kangaroos to continue to intimidate and steamroll their international competition, some of the biggest shoes in rugby league history need to be filled quickly.

A new era starts tonight, with Australia visiting trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand for a Test match that has rarely been so unpredictable.

Thaiday, whose representative career finished about 12 months before his retirement at the end of Brisbane’s recent finals campaign, is as curious as he is excited to see what the next generation will bring.

However he sees a good omen in their coach Mal Meninga, who took the reins of Queensland when a similar transitional period set up the most remarkable dynasty in State of Origin history.

“You look at Mal's track record of starting afresh and you look back to 2006 when he had to reshuffle and reshape the Queensland team and then went on to win eight series in a row, so yeah, he's really good at giving those young guys an opportunity and getting the best out of them,” Thaiday told Wide World of Sports.

“I don't know what the Queensland camps were like before Mal coached back in 2006 for the first time but even just the conversations he had with JT and Cam, there was a huge change in our camp lifestyle and the way we went about our business and Mal brought all those changes in.

“He did the same with the Australian team and I think he'll make sure all the young guys feel part of the team and want to go out there and play a great game of footy and keep that jersey.”

One of the few players who didn’t enjoy success with the Maroons during Meninga’s tenure was Daly Cherry-Evans, perhaps the most important player in a new-look spine that includes three debutants.

Cherry-Evans has always polarised and even as he gets his chance to stake a claim on a No.7 jersey that has been dominated by Cooper Cronk, negative headlines are following him out of the club that he’s captained to rock bottom.

It’s a far cry from the core of Storm superstars who almost always came into camp off the back of a grand final and Thaiday will be fascinated to see how the Queensland halfback handles it.

“I'm really happy DCE's got his chance, this year to come back into the Queensland side and then to get that Australian call up,” Thaiday said.

“Now Manly had a bit of an up and down year and probably shot themselves in the foot plenty of times with a lot of things they did. But it's good to see him get an opportunity and it’s completely up to him to take it and lock that jersey away until he finishes up.”

While Cherry-Evans faces the ever-present pressure of wearing the Kangaroos’ No.7 jersey, Boyd Cordner and Damien Cook have arguably the bigger shoes to try on for size.

Smith grew his legend as much as a captain as he did as a No.9 and splitting those roles between two will only spread the glare of the spotlight.

From a style perspective it will be chalk and cheese. Smith was a vocal leader, manipulating the referee and mastering the game situation.

According to Thaiday, and others, his pre-game speeches hit the mark every time and there was never any confusion about who owned the team when the superstar hooker was present.

Cordner is more a ‘follow me’ type of leader who will let others step forward when the talking needs to be done.

And as a No.9 you’re unlikely to see Cook step out of dummy half and launch a 40/20 attempt or kick on the third tackle to turn the opposition around.

According to Thaiday the danger for both players is that they try to emulate the legends they’re succeeding.

“Very, very different players and very, very different leaders,” Thaiday said.

“What Cordner does is he leads by example. As long as he's out there putting his body on the line, defending tough, he'll really lead the team in that way.

“I'm not really sure how he is in the way he speaks before a game but Cam's last address before you went out on the field was always inspirational and you wanted to play straight away.

“But I know Cordner will be out there really showing everyone that he deserves to be the Australian captain.” 

Whether or not the journey for this new Kangaroos side hits some bumps along the way, Thaiday is confident Meninga has the blueprint to avoid the kind of catastrophic dip that often strikes a team that loses a cluster of champions.

Most of all, Thaiday says Meninga has the ability to give his players the belief that they can create their own slice of history.

“Mal's really good at talking about the past and the journey of the Australian Kangaroos team and the battles that we've gone through in the past,” Thaiday said.

“And opening up to those young guys to start their own stories and have their own battles.

“I think that's what's really good, we've lost those older senior players but I think Mal will transition these new guys really well.

“Having Mal as a coach, he'll be drilling into them as much as possible to make sure to represent Australia to the best of their ability and go out there and do a great job.”

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