Cleary bids to kick conversion woes away

Usually the sharpest of shooters, Nathan Cleary's form with the boot could prove decisive for Australia in their Rugby League World Cup semi-final against New Zealand.

The Kangaroos have yet to have a game go down to the wire, with their 42-8 win over Fiji in their tournament opener their closest game.

But the magnitude of their wins has not camouflaged that fact that Cleary, who enjoyed an 85 per cent success rate at NRL level with Penrith, has seen his stats drop to 75 per cent at this tournament.

Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga has claimed the balls are lighter and smaller than the ones used in Australia, with Cleary staying behind at training to get his execution right.

Should he struggle against New Zealand at Elland Road on Friday (Saturday AEDT), Cleary will make the decision whether to hand over kicking duties to either Valentine Holmes or Latrell Mitchell.

"It is hard to kind of get the run up and strike from the sideline when you're doing it on a heavy track," Holmes said.

"It's probably not as bad because we've scored lots of points.

"This week it's likely to be a closer game and we need to be going up in sixes.

"I'm there for Nathan if he needs me (to step in), but it's Nathan's job.

"He asked me in the game against Italy if I wanted to take over because he missed the first one or two but I told him to keep going because it was probably going to play on his mind.

"I don't think it's something you should do mid-game unless you're missing five in a row."

Australia's players are not alone in experiencing difficulties with the tee at this tournament.

The Kiwis have anointed Canberra winger Jordan Rapana as their main goalkicker and he has had a 73 per cent success rate.

Rapana was forced to hand over duties to Dylan Brown in their final group game with Ireland after hitting just two of his opening four conversions but has spent time with Kiwis kicking coach Daryl Halligan perfecting his strike.

"I wasn't too bad (against Ireland), I just got moved on," he said.

"We wanted to share the load because we don't know who is going to be playing in the team.

"My kicking boots were on against Fiji, he (Halligan) is a great kicker and he's helped me heaps.

"Australia are hitting some form and seem to be gelling, we can't dish out what we did against Fiji otherwise we'll be on a flight back to New Zealand."