Star-studded Junior Kangaroos a good move for Test pathways

This Friday when the new-look 'Junior' Kangaroos take on France it will be a look at Mal Meninga's future ideal for the pathway to a senior Australian jersey, and I think it's a fantastic move.

With the Junior Kangaroos now being the best under-23s in the country rather than under-20s, it looks much more like an emerging Kangaroos squad.

When it was under-20s you would usually have a couple of guys in there who had played some first grade, some more guys who were still a way off and probably a few who would never go on to be established in the NRL.

In this team, even the least experienced players are regular first graders at their club, some have played Origin and a couple – like captain David Fifita – must be very close to being picked in the senior Kangaroos team.

This move is a good thing and will be for the greater benefit of Australian rugby league long-term.

I can't stress how invaluable it is for players at this stage of their careers to get around rep teams as much as possible.

Even someone like Angus Crichton who is 23 and has played in two Origin series gets a chance to wear the green and gold and some of the younger players will benefit from being in camp with guys like him and Kalyn Ponga; seeing how they train and how they go about their business and gauge themselves on how far away they are from that level.

Once you start playing first grade, the more time you can spend in a rep jumper –  any rep jumper, whether State or Origin or Tests or the PM's XIII or now the World Cup Nines – the better you become because straight away you're thrown into a situation where you have the best of the best.

You're thrown together with your most talented peers for a short period of time and you get to learn how they go about their business, how they train and play, and it gives you more of a perspective on how achievable it is for you to get to that level.

I played for the Junior Kangaroos back in 1998 at the end of my first season in the NRL with Souths. We had a pretty good team but one thing that really stands out for me from that night was playing in the curtain raiser for the main test and Tony Puletua, who was 19 and still eligible for the Junior Kiwis, was playing later on in the main game.

I'll never remember him carving up and just thinking, 'wow'. Yes, he was a freak for his age, but it was one of those moments that really bridged the gap for me between the junior games and the very top level.

I still think there's an opportunity to get a few younger guys who aren't in an NRL yet into this group and say 'here's your chance' and give them some real encouragement and incentive to build to that next level.

When I first started making senior rep teams a couple of years later, when I first went in I was awe of a lot of those players. Even though I was able to compete with them in clubland, you can't help but put guys in a pedestal.

Part of that is obviously how they play which is what got them to that level, part is the media attention around them, but also part of their success could be down to being in a good team lifting them to new heights so once you're in team with them you start to think 'I can do that'.

By that I mean, you don't suddenly make a rep team and think you're Andrew Johns but you look at those senior players and think 'he does this a certain way, I can take that and use it with myself to make me better' then all of a sudden those people aren't on those pedestals you put them on before.

And much like for me that night watching Tony Puletua, this Junior Kangaroos team will be able to look at players their own age in the senior team like Latrell Mitchell, Nick Cotric, Payne Haas and Cameron Murray and feel like they're not too far away if they keep improving and taking these sorts of opportunities.

Be there live at WIN Stadium for the Test Match Double Header. Visit nrl.com/tickets to purchase tickets.