A record loss to the Kiwis has sent shockwaves through both the Kangaroos ranks and the international game last weekend in the Pacific Championships final.

New Zealand were far too good when it counted.

In hindsight, Mal Meninga seemed to have made it more difficult for his team with a series of baffling selections.

One thing is for sure; the Kangaroos need to implement some changes with a look to refreshing the squad with a look to the 2026 World Cup.

This is the side, looking into the future, I expect to be our strongest 17 by the time the next World Cup rolls around.

I've assumed international allegiance, which will be explained below.

Tom Trbojevic and Latrell Mitchell have been overlooked as they've both been unable to finish recent seasons, and adding a further three worries me.

With that said, below is how I see the Kangaroos strongest 17 come the 2023 World Cup.

Fullback: Reece Walsh

There are two magnificent, young QLD fullbacks I expect to be at the top of their game come 2026 but I'm hitching my wagon to Reece Walsh.

In only his second season as an NRL player he came within a suspension of winning a Dally M medal, played a huge part in winning an Origin series and probably should have won a Premiership.

Simply put, Walsh is the next superstar of our game. Come back to this post in three year's time. I'm supremely confident.

SUNSHINE COAST, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 12: Reece Walsh of the Broncos in action during the NRL Trial Match between the Brisbane Broncos and Gold Coast Titans at Sunshine Coast Stadium on February 12, 2023 in Sunshine Coast, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Wing: Selwyn Cobbo

Assuming Brian To'o plays his second straight World Cup for the Samoa, we're going to go with the QLD ace.

Currently 21, Cobbo has a mistake in his game but is a huge strike weapon. In three years time I expect him to have grown into an absolute monster.

This isn't a huge guess given that Cobbo played for Australia a few weeks ago, but I am pretty confident in predicting he'll be a superstar by 2026.

Centre: Bradman Best

If Bradman Best was available and overlooked for this recent Pacific Cup tournament, I'd be filthy. He should be there on form.

Best made a magnificent Origin debut earlier in 2023 and will be an automatic selection in the coming years.

If he continues his trajectory, you couldn't pay me enough to stand opposite him. Pencil him in right now for a 2026 Kangaroos jumper.

Centre: Izack Tago

Another who will depend on availability, having previously represented Samoa. My feeling is that Tago will be a NSW regular by 2026 and will opt to play for Australia.

Tago was breathtaking in 2023 for the Panthers. At only 21 year's of age, there is no telling where he'll be come the 2026 tournament.

If he stays with Samoa, then slot either Turbo or Trell in here, if fit.

Wing: Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow

I openly hate picking players out of position, unless its say Tom Trbojevic or the like, but I'm willing to state right now I think Hammer is special.

Unlike Dylan Edwards, Tabuai-Fidow has played plenty of wing and stared for the Maroons in the centres. Three more years of NRL footy under his belt, I have no issues picking him here.

Whether it be at centre or on the wing, my feeling is you simply have to make space for the Hammer. By then he'll be 25 and at his peak.

NRL Rd 4 - Dolphins v Broncos
BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 24: Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow of the Dolphins celebrates scoring a try during the round four NRL match between the Dolphins and Brisbane Broncos at Suncorp Stadium on March 24, 2023 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Five-Eighth: Ezra Mam

I never thought I'd say these words but it's time to move on from Cameron Munster. Munster will be 32 by the time the World Cup rolls around and will have been usurped by Ezra Mam.

I'm not sold on Nicho Hynes and regardless of Luai's likeliness to continue to represent Samoa, by 2026 Mam will be the premier five-eight in the competiton.

He earned a spot in the Dally M Team of the Year in only his second year in the top grade. I expect him to get better and better.

Halfback: Nathan Cleary

Daly Cherry-Evans has been a magnificent halfback for the Kangaroos but I believe this past Saturday night should be his last appearance.

Nathan Cleary already lead the Aussies to a World Cup victory and will be tasked with doing it for a second time in 2026.

Cleary is undoubtedly a top three player in the game right now ... at minumum! It's hard to see that changing any time soon.

Prop: Payne Haas

Payne Haas had a below par game this past Saturday. That's the first time I remember ever thinking that. He is an automatic selection as you'll ever see.

Haas could very well and won a Dally M medal in 2023 and I don't think you'd hear a single argument if he did.

He has developed into a quality rep player for both state and country and will be 26 by the time the World Cup rolls around. Yikes!

Hooker: Harry Grant


Grant had as bad a game against the Kiwis as I remember him having. That said, to write off the current Dally M hooker of the year is laughable.

He'll be 28 by the next World Cup starts. He has to be an 80 minute hooker by then, be it at club, state or country level.

Grant is the best number nine in the game and 2026 won't be long enough to see anyone rise and take his mantle.

Prop: Tino Fa'asuamaleaui

Big Tino is another prop who had a rare off game on Saturday night. I doubt you'll see that again any time soon.

He is one of the game's very elite middles and will be at his peak, at 26 year's of age come the 2026 tournament.

Mark it down, he will be in a straight shootout with his prop partner here to be the best in the business at this time. A huge advantage for the Roos.

TOWNSVILLE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 23: Tino Fa'asuamaleaui of the Titans runs the ball during the round seven NRL match between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Gold Coast Titans at Qld Country Bank Stadium, on April 23, 2022, in Townsville, Australia. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Second Row: David Fifita

The Kangaroos missed David Fifita in a huge way this past weekend. Cotter and Martin were easily handled by their Kiwi counterparts.

He is the best second rower in the game. Arguably the most destructive forward in the competition on his day.

Fifita will continue his rise and become just as dominant at rep level. Pencil him in right now for a spot.

Second Row: Haumole Olakau'atu


The current Tongan rep is about to become a NSW regular and I believe will opt to play for the Kangaroos in the (likely) home World Cup in 2026.

Olakau'atu was an absolute monster in 2023 and I had him, comfortably, in my Team of the Year over Liam Martin.

He is going to be 28 at the time of the World Cup and by that time he'll be borderline unstoppable!

Lock: Patrick Carrigan


Isaah Yeo was solid on Saturday night but he'll be 32 come the World Cup. Carrigan will be 28 and the best lock in the game!

I would have played Carrigan as the starting 13 this time around but would be happy to see the change in the next round of international fixtures.

Carrigan, the current Dally M lock of the year, is a special football on both sides of the ball.

Interchange: Kalyn Ponga


The bench utility pick is all the rage at the moment. By 2026 it may very well be a specialist position.

Ponga is a special player, capable of filling in multiple roles. I absolutely wouldn't be creating a spot for him, he'd be demanding it.

Ponga, the current Dally M medalist, found a level of form in 2023 that few others can match. I can't see him not being there come 2026.

Interchange: Lindsay Collins


Collins, at thirty by then, will be one of the elder statesmen in the squad. That said, at 30 he'll likely be at his career peak.

The try-scoring freak was massive in 2023 despite his Roosters being otherwise well below par.

Collins in en route to becoming one of the game's very best. He is so versatile and so good at everything. Mark him down.

Interchange: Thomas Flegler


Here is another statement you can copy for 2026. Tom Flegler will, by then, be one of the game's best middle forwards.

He was magnificent in 2023 and with his role increasing with the Dolphins over the next few seasons, I see him becoming even better still.

QLD will have three of the top four props in the game come 2026. That's if they don't already.

Interchange: Cameron Murray


It's hard to believe that Cam Murray is still only 25 year's of age. He seems to have been around for ten years.

There seems this fixation of playing Murray, one of the game's best locks, on an edge in rep footy. I want to see that end and him employed in his best position.

An out and out middle forward by 2026, Murray will add a different dimension when he comes on for Carrigan at the 25 minute mark.

Coach: Craig Bellamy


The Storm super coach will have retired from his role at the Storm. 2024 could very well be his last go round. If not, it'll be 2025.

There's every chance he'll enter a role in the Melbourne head office but I'd love to see a coaching swan song via a home World Cup.

Whether or not it's Bellamy, I'm 100 per cent moving off Meninga after the Pacific Cup capitulation. This despite a World Cup win last year.