Mal Meninga will name his 24-man squad to head to England on Monday after the NRL grand final, and following a host of players either pulling out or switching nations, it will have a very different look and feel to the one that was looking likely in the middle of the season.

As players declare elsewhere and other nations name their squad, Australia has been brought right back to the pack, and while they will still head to England with favouritism for the tournament, they are no sure thing to bring home the chocolates.

In the lead up to the squad being named, Zero Tackle looks at the likely best 17 and wider squad to travel to England.

The spine

The first-choice spine really only has two questions, although one of those regards who starts, and who comes from the interchange bench.

It's abundantly clear that James Tedesco will be the fullback, and that may have been the case even if Kalyn Ponga hadn't pulled the plug on the tournament.

Cameron Munster will travel as the first-choice five-eighth, and won't be challenged by his number six jersey no matter who is named as extra depth for the team.

NSW v QLD - State of Origin Game 1

The halfback role is probably the biggest question in the first-choice. There is little doubt that both Nathan Cleary and Daly Cherry-Evans will be included in the squad, but who starts is a mystery.

If Cherry-Evans is named as captain, then you can bet he will be the number seven, otherwise, it'll likely go to Cleary who is about to line up in his third straight grand final.

Over at hooker, Ben Hunt and Harry Grant are likely to be the first-choice options and will share the game between them, again, with the toughest question being who starts and who doesn't.

It's fairly clear that whoever misses the starting team out of the duo will line up at 14, with Hunt also the third-choice halfback in the side, although he could also play back up to Cameron Munster and wear the six given his running game if need be.


Australia look slightly skinny in the rest of the backline given the number of players who have committed elsewhere. All of Brian To'o, Stephen Crichton, Daniel Tupou and Joseph Suaalii have gone to Pacific Island nations, meaning the backline is up for debate.

All the talk is that Josh Addo-Carr will be called in despite not playing for New South Wales this season, while Selwyn Cobbo is also a strong chance to feature on the other wing after impressing Mal Meninga during the PM's XIII game despite playing out of position, and also holding his own for Queensland this season in the State of Origin arena.

The back up on the wing looks short, with Valentine Holmes (who will likely be named in the centres), a strong chance to be shifted out wide during the tournament. Corey Oates and Murray Taulagi (who bafflingly misses the Samoa squad) are the likely next two off the rank, provided Taulagi isn't injured.

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In the centres, Latrell Mitchell's form at fullback will see him play a roaming role in the three-quarter line as he has done previously for the Blues at Origin level, while Valentine Holmes' emphatic switch to the centres will see him selected.

Holmes has already confirmed he wants to play for Australia, having done so during the 2017 tournament on home soil.

Forward pack

The forward pack has also been rocked by injuries and high-profile players electing to play elsewhere during what could be the best Rugby League World Cup in recent memory.

Payne Haas is out to injury, while others like Junior Paulo and Josh Papalii have elected to play elsewhere during the tournament.

That leaves Patrick Carrigan, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Isaah Yeo, Tino Fa'asuamaleaui and Reuben Cotter as the likely first-choice middle third rotation.

Two of those players - likely Cotter or Campbell-Gillard and Fa'asuamaleaui - will come off the bench, although truth be told, the exact rotation could switch from game to game depending on form and opposition as coach Meninga sees fit.

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The options to line up on the edge are also intriguing.

As he does at Origin level, expect Cameron Murray to shift onto the edge with Yeo wearing the number 13 jersey, while others in the mix include Angus Crichton, Jeremiah Nanai, Liam Martin, Hudson Young and the massively in-form Lane.

We have gone with Lane to start, while Liam Martin makes the cut within the 17 on the bench.


The remaining spots in the squad - seven in total - need to provide plenty of depth across the board.

The first will obviously go to whoever doesn't start out of Cherry-Evans and Cleary - likely the Manly and Queensland half to miss the 17.

Once you add in an extra dummy half - either Damien Cook or Apisai Koroisau, pending on Koroisau's eligibility to Fiji, three extra forwards in the shape of Lindsay Collins, Hudson Young and Angus Crichton, who edges out Jeremiah Nanai for the final spot in the squad thanks to his ability to play in the middle third and on the edge, there are only two spots left.

Given Holmes and Mitchell can both play at either fullback or on the wing, the backline depth is covered, so a specialist centre in Campbell Graham will be picked.

This selection seems almost assured given he has talked about wanting to play at the tournament for much of the year and missed the Scotland squad, which was announced on Thursday morning.

NRL Rd 7 - Panthers v Rabbitohs

Xavier Coates could also be selected (unless he elects to play for Papua New Guinea), but at this stage, it's difficult to find a spot for him.

The final spot comes down an extra utility race - either Matt Burton or Nicho Hynes.

Hynes has just taken out the Dally M and can cover fullback and both halves positions, while Burton can cover the halves and centres.

Given Campbell Graham's selection, and Hynes' taking the Sharks to second spot on the table, we have elected to take Hynes to the World Cup, but don't be at all surprised to see this go the other way.

The final squad

1. James Tedesco
2. Josh Addo-Carr
3. Latrell Mitchell
4. Valentine Holmes
5. Selwyn Cobbo
6. Cameron Munster
7. Nathan Cleary
8. Patrick Carrigan
9. Ben Hunt
10. Reagan Campbell-Gillard
11. Cameron Murray
12. Shaun Lane
13. Isaah Yeo

14. Harry Grant
15. Tino Fa'asuamaleaui
16. Liam Martin
17. Reuben Cotter

18. Daly Cherry-Evans
19. Nicho Hynes
20. Lindsay Collins
21. Hudson Young
22. Damien Cook
23. Campbell Graham
24. Angus Crichton