Meninga holds no grudge despite rejection
AUSTRALIA coach Mal Meninga has revealed Andrew Fifita isn't banned from the green-and-gold as the Tongan defector inches closer to a World Cup grudge match with the Kangaroos.
As Australia prepare for Friday night's sudden-death quarter-final against Samoa, Meninga said there is no bad blood with the enforcer who sensationally rejected a green-and-gold jumper.
Fifita last month spurned his selection in Australia's squad, opting to instead represent the Tongan team which last week pulled off a stunning 28-22 upset of the Kiwis in Hamilton.
That boilover has set-up the prospect of Fifita squaring off with the Kangaroos in a fortnight in the World Cup final at Suncorp Stadium - the scene of the NSW hardman's Origin I heroics.
There is a sentiment that Fifita should be banned from Australian selection for life - but Meninga says he will judge the Tongan turncoat solely on his NRL performances.
"If Andrew is playing well for his club, he has to be considered, simple as that," Meninga said.
"I will always pick our best players and that is important. If he is playing well and playing better than all the other front-rowers, he has to be considered for Australia.
"I was surprised by Andrew's decision but I understood that family is important.
"You have to have your heart attached to anything you do in life to make sure you do it well."
Fifita played a key role in Tonga's disposal of New Zealand, charging for 120m and making three tackle busts in the tier-two nation's finest triumph.
Meninga said he isn't personally offended by the sight of Fifita in a red jumper.
"I imagine Andrew has a great feeling around him playing for his ancestry and his grandparents," he said.
"He told me his heart is in the red jersey and that's great for him.
"If you are going to put a jersey on or do anything in life, you have to be emotionally connected to it.
"If his heart isn't in the green and gold, I'd prefer to put someone in the team that has his heart in the green and gold."
Meninga was frustrated with match officials for allowing Lebanon to stifle the Kangaroos in Australia's 34-0 shutout last week.
In steamy Darwin tonight, Meninga challenged the referees to let the world champions play with freedom against Samoa in a bid to promote the tournament.
"That's all we ask, we want to be allowed to play footy and entertain, that's what the World Cup is about, it's our showpiece," he said.
"We want to make sure it is refereed fairly and the ruck speed is good.
"It will be tough conditions, the ball will be slippery, so I want a real big emphasis on ball control and if we do that well, we don't do as much defence."