Almost better than Billy: Tedesco leads Meninga's Origin Merit Team

NSW's State of Origin triumph has been reflected in the Kangaroos Origin Merit Team, with Australian coach Mal Meninga selecting 11 Blues players in the 17-man side.

Meninga and his Kangaroos selectors sat down at the end of the series to pick the best 17 players in a team, which will go a long way to deciding the make up the Australian team for the two Test matches at the end of the year.

James Tedesco was a no-brainer at fullback, with Meninga going as far as admitting the Blues No.1 has almost caught up to Billy Slater in the game's greatest ever fullback debate.

"He's a superstar," Meninga said.

"It's hard to imagine, but he's got even better than last year. He's the person you go to when your team is in trouble and he finds a way to deliver. For a while he had to bide his time with Billy Slater there in the Kangaroos No.1 jersey, and he just got on with the job and kept trying to improve to become a better player.

"Everyone reckons that Billy was the best fullback ever. I think James is not far behind him now to be honest with you. That's why he's the best fullback in the world, if not the best player in the world.

"He's been through some ups and downs in his career, but he's improved so much since going to the Roosters. His knowledge and leadership has gone to another level."

The merit team backline is stocked full of Blues players, with Tedesco, Josh Addo-Carr, Jack Wighton, Tom Trbojevic and Blake Fergus

on all earning positions.

The halves were both Queenslanders, with Meninga conceding Cameron Munster and Daly Cherry-Evans were in the box seat to wear the No.6 and No.7 jerseys in the Tests against New Zealand and Tonga at the end of the year.

"They're certainly in first place at the moment," Meninga said of Munster and Cherry-Evans.

"Daly is the incumbent and vice captain of the Kangaroos and his leadership has gone to a new level. I'm comfortable with everything that I've heard internally in the Maroons about how excellent his leadership was during the series.

"And Munster is an outstanding talent. If Queensland wins game three he's probably man of the match. In saying all that, Luke Keary played for us last year and I have huge respect for him. So too James Maloney and Mitchell Pearce. We have quite a few quality sixes and sevens to choose from."

In the aftermath of NSW's triumph, a sledge from Josh McGuire to Blake Ferguson – believed to be too personal for publication – stole some of the attention.

However Meninga insists it won't deter him from picking both players in his national squad at the end of the year.

"It's not an issue from where I sit," Meninga said.

"I'm sure if you ask both of those players about what went on and ask if they had an issue with playing with each other, I daresay there wouldn't be a problem.

"There's nothing wrong with being aggressive and upsetting the opposition, as long as he doesn't go overboard and as long as it stays on the field."

The selection criteria for the Merit team was a minimum of two games. While there was no room for Latrell Mitchell, Meninga refused to put a line through his name.

"When he's playing well he's the No.1 left centre in the game," Meninga said.

"When you speak to Trent Robinson, you see that Latrell is improving in those effort areas every time he gets on the footy field. He's a great competitor. And after what he's been through he wants to prove a lot of people wrong. That's a good source of motivation."

The other big question ahead of the end of year Tests will be whether Kalyn Ponga can squeeze his way into the national team.

While Tedesco has a mortgage on the No.1 jersey, Ponga is expected to challenge Ben Hunt for the utility position on the bench.

"If Kalyn keeps progressing the way he is, it's going to be hard to leave him out," Meninga said.

"To remove Teddy is very hard, because he could be the best player in the world in my opinion. It's a selectors dream having those two running around. Kalyn proved last year he can play 14."