Mal Meninga has once again drawn the wroth of rugby league fans after failing to settle on his first-choice halfback for Australia's quarter-final clash with Lebanon at the World Cup.
Debate has been raging throughout the World Cup about whether Daly Cherry-Evans or Nathan Cleary should partner Cameron Munster in the halves, with the majority of pundits leaning towards Cleary.
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Cherry-Evans got the nod in Australia's opening game against Fiji, before Cleary started against Scotland.
Both players then started against Italy last weekend with Meninga opting to rest Munster ahead of the finals.
Many believed Meninga would settle on a first-choice halfback before the quarter-final against Lebanon on Saturday morning (AEDT), but the coach still appears undecided.
Meninga named his squad in alphabetical order on Wednesday night, with Cleary, Munster and Cherry-Evans all included.
Ben Hunt, who has been playing hooker off the bench to give Harry Grant a spell, has been left out, with Cherry-Evans likely to fill his spot as No.14.
However the move hasn't gone down well with pundits and fans, with many believing Cherry-Evans shouldn't be in the team at all.
"You hear a lot in the UK about the political school of ‘cakeism’ - the policy of 'having your cake and eating it' - and that sort of sums up Meninga’s decision to include both Nathan Cleary and Daly Cherry-Evans in his Rugby League World Cup match day squad for the date with the Cedars in Huddersfield," wrote British reporter James Tomey on Wednesday night.
It really does seem daft not to play your best team until the semi final stage. He should grow some balls, drop DCE altogether and picked the best team for the quarter final, before they take on the semi final which is basically the final (and I say that as an Englishman!)
— Stuart Akister (@StuartAkister) November 2, 2022
Not DCE for Hunt will do me
Mal : Footy gave me nothing so I’m gonna return the favor
— Deep Longstop 🐶🏏 (@deeplongstop) November 2, 2022
Dropping Hunt but keeping Golden boy Cleary.
Madness Mal, he has succumbed to the biased NSW media
— Dan (@deepCracinmulet) November 2, 2022
Mal Meninga is literally just opening up to more criticism by not committing to a 7. Cleary is starting so obvs he knows who the better option is, but leaving Hunt out, just to include DCE is just idiotic, when Grant starts to gas, then he’ll understand.
— Ethan (@ethxn26) November 2, 2022
Time for DCE to be dropped, probably the luckiest player in the WC
— Kenny McKay (@KennyMcKay04) November 2, 2022
Should have dropped DCE not Ben Hunt.
— Erin Clarke (@ErinClarke_19) November 2, 2022
Just drop the Queensland half back already
— Ross Mc@rdell (@RossMcArdell) November 2, 2022
Nathan Cleary likely to win starting halfback job
By not naming his side in positional order, which was the case in the opening two games, Meninga has given himself flexibility to reshuffle the make-up of his spine.
His backline, however, is unlikely to change, with Valentine Holmes and Josh Addo-Carr as his wingers, Latrell Mitchell and Jack Wighton at centre and skipper James Tedesco at fullback.
In the forward pack, Angus Crichton and Liam Martin are expected to start in the back-row, with Isaah Yeo at lock and Harry Grant at hooker.
Munster will be Meninga's five-eighth, while the middle rotation has a bevy of flexible options with Tino Fa'asuamaleaui, Jake Trbojevic, Pat Carrigan, Lindsay Collins, Cameron Murray and Reuben Cotter all included.
But it is the selection of Cleary ahead of Cherry-Evans which is likely to dominate headlines.
Cleary was unmoved as the side's No. 7 at training on Tuesday and such a move by Meninga move would pave the way for a promising career in the green and gold for the 24-year-old Penrith halfback.
His first assignment will be to knock over a Lebanon side led by Parramatta's Mitchell Moses in Huddersfield in their first meeting since the NRL grand final.
Meninga has agonised over the halfback decision, describing it as one of the toughest of his career.
Cherry-Evans said after the Italy win he was aware his role as the team's playmaking chief was under threat when he was selected for the tour.
"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."
Cleary's inclusion may have also boosted the chances of his Penrith teammate Martin to be selected to face Lebanon.
Martin trained extensively on the right edge for Australia and is a strong chance to start there ahead of South Sydney captain Murray.
Australia team (in alphabetical order): Josh Addo-Carr, Pat Carrigan, Daly Cherry-Evans, Nathan Cleary, Lindsay Collins, Reuben Cotter, Angus Crichton, Tino Fa'asuamaleaui, Campbell Graham, Harry Grant, Valentine Holmes, Liam Martin, Latrell Mitchell, Cameron Munster, Cameron Murray (vc), James Tedesco (c), Jake Trbojevic, Jack Wighton, Isaah Yeo (vc).
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