Monster headache for Meninga with Munster in doubt but Hynes ready to step up for Kiwi showdown

Cameron Munster remains in doubt to steer the Kangaroos against New Zealand in Saturday’s Pacific Championships clash, with the ill playmaker quarantined from the team.

The star five-eighth travelled to Melbourne in a separate vehicle on Thursday and wasn’t part of their jersey presentation alongside the Jillaroos and Kiwi teams in front of a small but vocal crowd.

Munster woke sick on Wednesday, with Nicho Hynes running at five-eighth in training, with the debutant set to be elevated from the bench to start in the halves should the Storm ace fail to recover.

Australian skipper James Tedesco was hopeful Munster would recover to play on his home deck at AAMI Park, but said 2022 Dally M Medal winner Hynes would be up to the task if handed the key role.

Hynes is also familiar with the Melbourne ground, having spent three seasons with the Storm before switching to Cronulla.

Nicho Hynes. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

“He (Munster) was a bit crook and he’s having a couple of days rest and staying away for precautionary reasons, but he’ll be good to go, and if not Nicho can slip in there no dramas,” Tedesco said.

“You look at the last few years, Nicho has been one of the best halves in the competition, so if he did have to fill in there would be no dramas.”

Hynes is one of two debutants in Mal Meninga’s side, with Brisbane prop Tom Flegler also starting against the Kiwis, who thrashed Samoa 50-0 last round in Auckland.

Former hot-head Flegler says his selection has come after some words of wisdom from Brisbane coach Kevin Walters.

It will be a grand final “reunion” for Flegler, with Penrith pair James Fisher-Harris and Moses Leota lining up in the starting front row for New Zealand.

The 24-year-old prop said he had evolved from the angry man who was banned for six games in each of the 2021 and 2022 seasons – two weeks in the latter coming after a meltdown against the Warriors when he was put on report four times in one match.

Flegler said Walters had given him some advice about his approach, leading to no suspensions in 2023 and a State of Origin recall.

“Kevvie always said to me, ‘You need to be a blue head Fleg, not a red head’, so I needed to be a lot calmer,” Flegler said.

“I’ve almost played 100 games now, and it took me a fair few seasons to mature as a front-rower in the game. 

“I’m not as aggressive anymore and I’ve spent more time on the field this year, which is good. I need to keep doing that. It’s no good for the team when you’re on the sidelines, but it takes you a few games to realise that.”

Flegler said when he “sees red” on the field now he tries to remove himself from the situation.

“You’ve got to take a step back, take a breath and think about what’s right for the team, not so much about what you want to do,” he said.

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