Slater, Kaufusi among 7 Storm players in Australia squad

SYDNEY (AP) Fullback Billy Slater and backrower Felise Kaufusi are among seven players from the NRL premiership-winning Melbourne Storm selected in Mal Meninga’s Australia squad for the Rugby League World Cup.

Kaufusi was one of six rookies confirmed Tuesday in the 24-man squad for the tournament, which will be played in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea from Oct. 27.

Sydney Roosters fullback James Tedesco is the surprise omission after being chosen by his fellow National Rugby League players as the player of the year. Meninga has opted for Slater and Manly fullback Tom Trbojevic ahead of Tedesco.

Meninga has also omitted winger Blake Ferguson, vote player of the tournament at last year’s Four Nations, preferring Queensland’s State of Origin player of the series Dane Gagai.

Brisbane Broncos utility Ben Hunt has edged the Sydney Roosters’ Jake Friend as backup hooker to captain Cameron Smith, and Melbourne prop Jordan McLean has been chosen ahead of Queensland’s Dylan Napa.

Kaufusi was tipped as a possible surprise selection in the squad after his performance in Sunday’s NRL grand final when Melbourne thrashed the North Queensland Cowboys.

”I’m just dumbfounded by people tossing my name up when there are so many great players in front of me,” Kaufusi said before the squad was unveiled.

Slater won the Clive Churchill medal for the player of the NRL grand final, capping a remarkable comeback season following injuries which sidelined him last year and threatened his future in the game.

The other Melbourne players in the squad are Smith, veteran halfback Cooper Cronk, Cameron Munster, Will Chambers and McLean. Cronulla has four players – Wade Graham, Andrew Fifita, James Maloney and Valentine Holmes – as does Brisbane with Hunt, Darius Boyd, Matt Gillett and Josh McGuire.

Boyd has a hamstring injury but is expected to be fit for the World Cup.

Tom Trobojevic’s brother Jake is also selected. Cowboys playmaker Michael Morgan was picked as a utility player after spearheading North Queensland to an unlikely run from outside the top eight and into the final. Cowboys and Australia veterans Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott were unavailable because of long-term injuries.

Australia is the defending World Cup champion and has won the tournament 10 times since its first edition in 1954.

Australia:

Backs: Billy Slater, Darius Boyd, Will Chambers, Dane Gagai, Tom Trbojevic, Josh Dugan, Valentine Holmes, Cooper Cronk, Cameron Munster, Michael Morgan, James Maloney.

Forwards, Aaron Woods, David Klemmer, Josh McGuire, Andrew Fifita, Jake Trobojevic, Jordan McLean, Boyd Cordner, Matt Gillett, Tyson Frizell, Wade Graham, Felise Kaufusi, Cameron Smith, Ben Hunt.