13 Kangaroos who never played Origin
When Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga named his first green and gold line-up in May's trans-Tasman Test, he expressed a view that ideally Test players would first represent their state before moving on to higher honours.
The four Test debutants he named for that game – Michal Morgan, Josh McGuire, Blake Ferguson and Semi Radradra – had all played Origin bar the ineligible Radradra, who had played Test football for Fiji.
But Meninga's 24-man squad for the upcoming Four Nations includes four players – Shannon Boyd, Valentine Holmes, Jake Friend and Jake Trbojevic – who had played for neither state nor country previously. Two of those – Boyd and Holmes – made strong starts to their Test careers in the recent 26-6 win over the Kiwis.
The fact many players can come of age and potentially excel in a finals series right before a Kangaroos tour means often it is the right call to pick players who have yet to play Origin but sometimes, for whatever reason, those players may never end up playing Origin.
While Boyd and Holmes are currently short odds to enter the interstate fray as early as next year, there are other current players for whom an Origin debut seems much further away, as well as plenty of retired Kangaroos who will never feature for NSW or Queensland.
Here is a handy 13-man outfit made up entirely of players who have represented Australia without ever (yet) getting a call-up by Blues or Maroons selectors.
1. Alex Johnston: 1 Test, 2015
Rabbitohs youngster Johnston had a whirlwind 2014, scoring 21 tries in 18 games in a debut season that saw him displace club legend Nathan Merritt from the first grade side for South Sydney. The shortage of fit outside backs saw the Redfern product join Josh Dugan, Will Chambers and Michael Jennings in a new-look three-quarter line for Australia's 2015 trans-Tasman Test win over New Zealand. Johnston hasn't since quite replicated his 2014 dominance and now has plenty of players ahead of him in the NSW pecking order.
2. Sione Mata'utia: 3 Tests, 2014
Easily the youngest man on this list and the youngest-ever Kangaroo, Newcastle teenager Mata'utia was a serious bolter when tossed his maiden green and gold jersey after just seven NRL games by then-Australia coach Tim Sheens for the 2014 Four Nations series. The injury-ravaged Roos squad also featured a number of Test debutants who had not played Origin but have since done so, including the likes of David Klemmer, Josh Mansour, Dylan Walker and Josh Jackson.
Mata'utia has also struggled to reclaim the form that catapulted him to national honours so early but with a shift to the back row reinvigorating his football in 2016 and the fact he is still just 20, he has plenty of time to press his claims for NSW down the track.
3. Chris Lawrence: 6 Tests, 2010-11
Another still-active player, Wests Tigers centre Lawrence burst onto the scene as a classy three-quarter back in 2006-07. He announced himself with 16 tries in 18 games in his first full season in 2007 and his club's strong form throughout 2010 (the Tigers finished third and five-eighth Benji Marshall was awarded the Golden Boot as the world's best player) helped Lawrence onto the 2010 Four Nations tour where he scored a try on debut and added five more Test caps in the 2011 Four Nations, scoring three more tries and playing in the victorious final. Ankle and hip injuries have since robbed Lawrence of a yard of pace and though still just 27 and having made a successful transition to the back row at club level his Origin chances look to have passed by.
4. Russell Richardson: 3 Tests (including Super League Tests), 1997-99
Injuries halted the representative career of talented Sharks (and later Rabbitohs then Knights) centre Richardson, who was eventually forced to retire at just 27. A member of Cronulla's losing 1997 Super League Grand Final side (a match in which he scored his side's only try), Richardson was called up for the three-match Super League Test series against Great Britain shortly after, playing twice off the bench. He added another Test in 1999, scoring a try in the 1999 Tri-Nations opener before injury intervened and effectively put a stop on his rep career.
5. Nathan Blacklock: 2 Tests, 2001
There's no two ways about it: St George Illawarra prodigy Blacklock was a try-scoring freak. In four seasons from 1998 to 2001, the Tingha flyer racked up 20, 24, 25 and a monstrous 27 tries for a tally of 96 in just four seasons. His perpetual absence from sky blue was a bone of contention for many NSW fans during that sparkling part of his 142-game career that also included a hat-trick of Dally M winger of the year awards from 99-01. It didn't stop the Australia selectors though with Blacklock handed a debut against Papua New Guinea ahead of the 2001 Ashes tour. He scored two tries in the 54-12 win and earned a second cap in a 28-8 win over Great Britain.
6. Andrew Walker: 1 Test, 1996
The frighteningly talented Walker is arguably the most gifted player on this list and despite his status as a dual international – and the first to go from league to union rather than the other way around – his career still smacks of what could have been. An enigmatic ball player and brilliant support player who could conjure something from nothing like few players in history, Walker's eight seasons at St George and the Roosters between 1992 and 1999 included a solitary ARL Test – against a PNG side in 1996 during the Super League war where he played off the bench in the 52-6 win. He left for the ACT Brumbies in 2000 and played seven Tests for the Wallabies in his four years there before returning for a season with Manly in 2004, but his inconsistent brilliance and unstructured style never found favour with Blues selectors.
7. Ben Hunt: 3 Tests, 2014
Another of the 2014 Four Nations alumni yet to have tasted Origin, Hunt still finds himself stuck behind the likes of Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk in the Maroons pecking order. Hunt will have plenty of time to strive for a Maroons jersey following the eventual retirements of that illustrious pair but will still have to contend with the likes of Michael Morgan, Daly Cherry-Evans, Anthony Milford and Moses Mbye.
8. Joel Clinton: 1 Test, 2004
A powerful Panthers prop who debuted in 2002, Clinton's muscular running game was a key plank of Penrith's charge to the 2003 premiership. He was rewarded with a spot on the end-of-year Kangaroo tour of Great Britain and France but played only a warm-up game against a France XIII. However he started in the front row for the next Test – the 2004 trans-Tasman fixture – and performed strongly in the 37-10 win. That made his omission from the Blues side for Origin I just a month later all the more bizarre; all four specialist props picked in Mark O'Meley, Ryan O'Hara, Brent Kite and Willie Mason had missed out on the Test but featured in the City-Country clash two weeks later in the Origin lead-up. It was the closest Clinton got to state honours.
9. Aaron Raper, 1 Test, 1995
Former Sharks and Eels hooker Raper – brother of ex-Sharks coach Stuart and son of league legend Johnny – is perhaps the unluckiest man on this list not to have played Origin. The 1995 World Cup tourist was selected for NSW in Game 2 of 1997 but was left on the bench for the entire game by coach Tommy Raudonikis meaning he came closer than anyone else here to actually playing Origin. His lone Test came in the group stages of the 1995 World Cup where he scored a try (one of many by the Kangaroos) in an 86-6 walloping of South Africa.
10. Darren Britt: 9 Tests, 1998-2000
No player in the NRL era has played more Test matches for the Kangaroos without getting an Origin call-up than Britt. A hard-working prop with a quality offload harking from Orange in Country NSW, Britt skippered Canterbury almost 100 times in a 227-game NRL career that started at the Magpies before flourishing in blue and white from 1994 to 2001 before a two-year swansong at St Helens in the Super League. Britt was a regular in green and gold from 1998 to 2000, playing nine Tests including the 1999 Tri-Nations and 2000 World Cup. He was overlooked for the likes of Robbie Kearns, Rodney Howe, Jason Stevens and Michael Vella in 2000 when he looked most likely to get a run for NSW. The fact the Blues whitewashed Queensland 3-0 and outscored the Maroons 104-42 that year makes it hard to knock the selectors though.
11. Daniel Gartner: 1 Test, 1996
Almost a decade in the top grade at Manly from 1992 to 2000 saw back-rower Gartner – cousin of Test flanker Russell – nab a solitary Test cap in 1996 shortly after starting in Manly's premiership win over St George. It was in the same Super League-affected ARL Test against PNG that saw Andrew Walker play his only Test. Gartner enjoyed plenty of on-field success, playing in five straight finals series from 1994 to 1998 which also included the '95 and '97 Grand Final losses but his consistency in maroon and white never led to a start in sky blue, with a '97 City Origin jersey the closest he came.
12. Richard Villasanti: 1 Test, 2003
One of the more remarkable one-Test wonders was former Warriors forward Villasanti, who debuted for Balmain in 1999. A junior Kiwi and one-time Tonga World Cup squad member who shifted from the merged Wests Tigers to Auckland in 2001, the Canberra born hit-man was a shock call up for the 2003 Kangaroo tour of Great Britain and France, becoming the first New Zealand-based Kangaroos tourist. He came off the bench in a 30-16 loss to the Kiwis in what was his only Test match.
13. Reni Maitua: 1 Test, 2006
There is no doubting the talent of former Bulldogs and Eels lock Maitua, much as there is no doubting the level of controversy that followed him throughout a colourful career that included 174 NRL games, one premiership, two Tests for Samoa, one Test for the Kangaroos, a City-Country jersey, a two-year ban for testing positive to a banned substance in 2009 and no Origin games. Two years after coming off the bench in Canterbury's 2004 Grand Final win, Maitua was called up to the Australian team for the post-season Tri-Nations tournament and started at lock in the first game – a 30-18 win over New Zealand. An ankle injury ended his tournament and effectively his Kangaroos career, though he played twice for Samoa seven years later.
This article first appeared on NRL.com