Meninga looks for new forward leader
Aaron Woods is expected to be given added responsibility by Australian coach Mal Meninga as he seeks a new forward leader after Matt Scott was ruled out of the Rugby League World Cup with a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament.
Woods, the North Queensland co-captain, suffered the season ending injury when he was wrongfooted attempting to tackle New Zealand Test prop Adam Blair and tried to change direction during the Cowboys golden point defeat of Brisbane last Friday night.
With Paul Gallen having retired from representative football, Corey Parker hanging up his boots at the end of last season and Greg Bird moving to Super League, Scott was the most senior forward in the Australian team and a key figure in Meninga’s World Cup plans.
Since making his Test debut in 2010, Scott has worn the Kangaroos jersey 22 times – the combined total of Woods (nine) and the other props used by Meninga in last year's Four Nations tournament, David Klemmer (eight), Shannon Boyd (four) and Jake Trbojevic (one).
Australian assistant coach Michael Hagan said it would be impossible to replace Scott but there were other players who could take up the slack for the Kangaroos in the May 7 Test against New Zealand at Canberra Stadium and during the World Cup.
"Matt is a big loss, he is the most senior front rower in the game and the most experienced but having said that I was most impressed by Aaron Woods on the tour, and David Klemmer and Shannon Boyd," Hagan said.
"Sam Thaiday can play a front row/middle third sort of role so I think we have got pretty good cover in that space but it is no secret that Matt's leadership of that group is something he has really developed over the last three or four years in Origin and at Test level."
Hagan said that Scott’s toughness was another attribute which would be missed and he had led the way in Australia’s 34-8 win over the Kiwis at Anfield last November.
"We were successful against the Kiwis last year because we were a lot more physical and a lot more aggressive in the way we started, and Matt is a big part of it," Hagan said.
"I have watched him closely for probably seven or eight years in terms of the hard work he does in the middle, carrying the ball and defensively, and there are not many better at it than he is. A lot of that goes unnoticed at times but he takes a real pride in that part of the game."
The injury to Scott comes just a week after Kangaroos superstar Greg Inglis was ruled out for the season with South Sydney after suffering a torn ACL in the opening round of the NRL but Meninga insists the Rabbitohs captain will still be considered for the World Cup.
In a boost for Australia, Melbourne fullback Billy Slater is set to make his comeback from a shoulder injury that has sidelined him since the second State of Origin match in 2015 at the MCG.
"That is a real plus for the Storm and Queensland, and I would think the Kangaroos," Hagan said.
"I know how highly regarded he is by Mal and the players.
"Everyone knows and appreciates how hard he works on his game and his rehab so if he is anywhere near 100 per cent I am sure he will come flying back into that equation."