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Who's In Kangaroos Best 13?

Michael Chammas‌, Chief Reporter‌‌, ‌‌‌NRL.com

2017 NRL - Grant Trouville © NRL Photos
2017 NRL - Grant Trouville © NRL Photos

Wade Graham may well be the most in-form back-rower at Australia’s disposal, but even with a four try performance against France on Friday night, he will do well to knock off the incumbents.

Graham was at his damaging best in Australia's 52-6 World Cup victory in the nation's capital, but his biggest strength is perhaps his Achilles heel.

Graham is the most versatile player in the game, period. But therein lies the problem. Every good football team needs a good No.14, and Graham is just that for the Kangaroos.

Boyd Cordner and Matt Gillett are the backrow incumbents with a firm stranglehold on the positions, but you could argue Graham has enjoyed the best season of the three main contenders for those edge spots.

He grabbed a first half hat-trick against the French, his second at Canberra Stadium this year, before he was substituted late in the opening stanza.

But, it's likely to count for very little when it comes to his chances of pushing his way into the starting 13 for the pressure-cooker games towards the end of the tournament, a harsh repercussion of his own versatility.

While Graham starred on the left edge, Australia kept the left side combination of Michael Morgan and Josh Dugan from the opening game to work on combinations.

It was a strategy that led to the Kangaroos scoring their first six tries down that side of the field, including a brilliant solo try to Dugan in the first half.

There were a few milestones in this game. Cameron Smith surpassed Clive Churchill for the most consecutive appearances for Australia in his 36th-straight Test. Something the coach believes will never be beaten again.

Smith's Melbourne teammate Billy Slater equalled Bob Fulton and Jarryd Hayne's record for most tries in World Cup history when he bagged his 13th four pointer.

With James Maloney a late scratching from the game having returned home to deal with a private family matter, Cameron Munster was thrown into the No.7 jersey as one of four debutants in the side, bagging a double in a strong showing.

Reagan Campbell-Gillard showed why he is regarded as one of the brightest young props in the game in his maiden outing in the green and gold, however Tom Trbojevic and Felise Kaufusi didn't have much to do on the right side of the field given Australia's preference to direct traffic towards the opposite edge.

When you look at the team Mal Meninga named for the opening game of the tournament against England last week, you could argue that was the team he feels is the strongest and the team he will field come semi final and final time.

When you look at the side, there aren't too many positions that are genuinely up for grabs.

Slater will be fullback. Dugan and Will Chambers will be the centres. Morgan and Cooper Cronk will be the halves. The front row rotation will consist of Aaron Woods, David Klemmer, Jordan McLean and Campbell-Gillard.

The lock position is up for grabs given Jake Trbojevic's tournament-ending injury, and the backrow dilemma has already been addressed.

But both wing positions are still up in the air, with Dane Gagai and Valentine Holmes no certainties to keep Tom Trbojevic and Josh Mansour out of the strongest side.

Australia were resilient but rusty in their first game against England. They were strong but clunky against the French. Either the bookies didn't give France enough respect with the 56.5 start or Australia just didn't carry the ruthless mentality they hoped to show.

Either way, there's work to be done for Meninga's men, who won't genuinely be tested again for another three weeks when they touch down in Brisbane for their semi-final. That's when Meninga will start to worry if the rust and clunky passages continue to plague his team’s performance.

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