Penrith link sways Meninga's Cleary call

Mal Meninga admits his justification for telling Daly Cherry-Evans why he had lost the Kangaroos' halfback race was "poor", revealing that the squad's Penrith connection helped Nathan Cleary edge it.

Cleary and Cherry-Evans had been neck and neck throughout this Rugby League World Cup as Meninga chopped and changed his side.

But when push came to shove, Australia's coach was forced to tell Cherry-Evans that, at the age of 33, his standing as the nation's premier No.7 had come to an end.

Cherry-Evans has done nothing to play himself out of contention, but the Kangaroos coach said Cleary's familiarity with Penrith teammates Liam Martin and Isaah Yeo got him over the line.

"I gave him (Cherry-Evans) that reason," Meninga said ahead of Friday's (Saturday AEDT) quarter-final meeting with Lebanon.

"It's probably a poor one when you think about it, but it came down to those connections at club level which swung it the way of Nathan.

"He (Cherry-Evans) is disappointed, but you never know what will happen in this tournament."

Cherry-Evans will have a chance to play against the Lebanese from the bench, with the ever-present Ben Hunt rested ahead of a likely semi-final with New Zealand.

Meninga returned to Kangaroos training on Thursday (local time) after being laid down with sickness earlier in the week.

Cleary also had a stomach bug while in camp but is not a doubt to play against Lebanon.

"I had some sleepless nights and that's maybe why I'm so crook at the moment," Meninga said.

"It's hard to explain to the person why they missed out."

"I noticed through the week that he (Cleary) started to talk a lot more and he's started to take control of the team a lot more.

"It's his jersey now, it's the start of his career playing for Australia and I'd like to see him have it for a long period of time."

One of Cleary's first tasks will be to avoid a banana skin from a Lebanon side inspired by captain Mitchell Moses and coached by the unorthodox Michael Cheika.

Lebanon's tactics have given other sides headaches at this tournament and Meninga said his side would have to be on their guard.

"They're playing expansive footy and they have some really talented players in their halves," Meninga said.

"Jacob Kiraz is playing really well at fullback and there's the aura of Michael Chieka and what rugby union can bring to rugby league.

"I'm sure they'll have some tricks, but we're aware of that. We'll come ready to play and ready to play the Australian way."