Mal Meninga makes call on Nathan Cleary and Daly Cherry-Evans

Nathan Cleary and Daly Cherry-Evans, pictured here at the Rugby League World Cup.
Nathan Cleary has won the starting halfback role ahead of Daly Cherry-Evans at the World Cup. Image: Getty

Mal Meninga has decided on Nathan Cleary as his first-choice halfback at the Rugby League World Cup, but kept Daly Cherry-Evans on the bench for Australia's quarter-final clash with Lebanon.

Meninga angered fans when he announced his 19-man squad in alphabetical order on Thursday, with Cleary and Cherry-Evans both named despite fighting for the halfback spot.

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But the Kangaroos coach clarified his team on Friday and revealed that Cleary has won the starting job alongside Cameron Munster in the halves.

When push came to shove, Meninga 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."

Meninga said Cherry-Evans will come off the bench due to a slight injury concern for Cleary, with utility Ben Hunt rested for the clash with Lebanon.

Meninga returned to Kangaroos training on Thursday after being laid down with sickness earlier in the week. Cleary also had a stomach bug while in camp but is not in any real 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."

Mal Meninga, pictured here during a training session at the Rugby League World Cup.
Mal Meninga looks on during a training session at the Rugby League World Cup. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Nathan Cleary gets the nod ahead of Daly Cherry-Evans

Cherry-Evans had previously said he knew the writing was on the wall.

"I knew what I was signing up for, Mal told me before we came," he said.

"This was always going to be an open competition. I knew I was either going to be playing for Australia for the whole time or have to be a bit selfless and do something special for a young group coming through."

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."

with AAP

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