Cleary gets Kangaroos Test shot in Origin

·3-min read

Nathan Cleary will be handed his best shot at Australia's No.7 jersey with Mal Meninga declaring incumbency will mean little and State of Origin will decide end-of-year selections.

Meninga revealed on Monday he would take a largely clean slate to Kangaroos selections this year, with Origin to decide several spots.

The halfback battle between Daly Cherry-Evans and Nathan Cleary looms as the biggest of the Origin series, with the pair among the leading players in the game.

Damien Cook and Harry Grant are likely duelling for the No.9 spot, while Meninga must settle on a reshuffled backline and new-look pack.

There is still some hope the end-of-year World Cup in England will go ahead with quarantine on return to Australia the biggest issue.

But if the global showpiece doesn't eventuate then Oceania Tests are likely.

Australia have not played a Test since November 2019, and only 11 of the 17 men who played Tonga in that match will run out in Origin on Wednesday night.

"I think it's very open ... Because we haven't had a Test for such a long period of time you have to look at who is playing best," Meninga told AAP.

"Loyalty is part of that but because it's been such a while you go on performance and success.

"That's where Origin comes into it... It will have a big bearing on the Kangaroos."

Since the Test against Tonga, Cleary has won 30 of 32 matches for Penrith, controversially missing out on last year's Dally M and leading this year's race.

Cherry-Evans has made his own statement, outclassing Cleary in last year's Origin and leading Queensland to a shock series win.

"Nathan has been really dominant and you see how important he is to the Penrith side ... He has gone to another level this year," Meninga said.

"But DCE's form has been immaculate since Tommy came back. It's interesting, DCE is the incumbent and vice-captain.

"Origin will become the yardstick for selection for those two."

Grant has gone from a two-game NRL player to the difference at dummy-half in last year's Origin decider since Australia's most recent Test.

Incumbent Kangaroos hooker Damien Cook has remained Blues No.9, but had to stave off a challenge from Api Koroisau this year.

"They are four really good candidates (including Reed Mahoney) putting pressure on," Meninga said.

"Harry hasn't played much footy. Damien has been more consistent ... Origin is going to help the cause when we look at selections."

Meninga is also invested in how both Tom Trbojevic and Latrell Mitchell fair in the centres, with James Tedesco his likely No.1.

The front row is wide open, with David Klemmer missing from NSW for more than a year and Josh Papalii indicating he wants to play for Samoa.

Meanwhile, Cleary this week swatted away Test talk, while Cherry-Evans said he was not concerned by the threat of the looming battle.

"I've got a lot of respect for the way Nathan's played over the last 18 months but I haven't been disappointed in my performances," the Maroons skipper said.

"I understand that that's a conversation because of how well he's playing, but I would be worried if I was playing poorly."