Roosters forward Nat Butcher is a shock inclusion in an extended Kangaroos squad for the Pacific Championships, which could see the Test debut of Knights star Kalyn Ponga.
Butcher, who is yet to represent NSW at State of Origin level, has been added to the Australian train-on squad alongside teammates James Tedesco and Lindsay Collins for the tri-nations tournament featuring New Zealand and Samoa.
While most of the debate has been around Meninga’s choice in the centres given the unavailability of Latrell Mitchell, Tom Trbojevic, Jack Wighton and potentially Valentine Holmes, Butcher’s call-up comes as a huge surprise.
The 26-year-old has been in fantastic form for the Roosters before they bowed out of the finals with a last-gasp loss to the Storm on Friday night, and previously played for the Prime Minister’s XIII against a Papua New Guinea affiliate in 2022.
And Meninga has seen enough to give him a chance of featuring in the streamlined squad for matches in Townsville and Melbourne.
Ponga’s inclusion comes after a red-hot run of form which helped lift the Knights to 10 straight wins and an unlikely finals berth before their season ended at the hands of the Warriors in Auckland.
Despite starring for Queensland and even representing the Maori All-Stars, Ponga is yet to pull on the green and gold at senior level and looms as an enticing option for Meninga, even if he sticks with Tedesco at fullback.
The Knights are confident their highest-paid player won’t need shoulder surgery in the off-season after injuring his AC joint in the penultimate round of the regular season against the Sharks.