Mal Meninga's huge call amid Nathan Cleary debate at World Cup

Australian coach Mal Meninga (pictured right) and (pictured left) Nathan Cleary during an interview.
Coach Mal Meninga (pictured right) is expected to pair both Nathan Cleary (pictured left) and Daly Cherry-Evans together in the halves as the duo battle it out for the halfback role at the World Cup. (Getty Images)

Australian coach Mal Meninga appears ready to grant Nathan Cleary and Daly Cherry-Evans one last audition for the halfback spot as they prepare to line-up together in the Kangaroos' next game at the Rugby League World Cup.

The battle for the all-important halfback role has been the talking point of the World Cup so far as the Kangaroos head towards a semi-final showdown with New Zealand.

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Cherry-Evans was granted the first opportunity, but didn't stand out in a 42-8 victory against Fiji.

Penrith Panthers star Cleary then emphasised his credentials to become Meninga's first-choice halfback after scoring 28 points on debut in Coventry against Scotland.

Cleary was one of six debutants named by Meninga in last Friday's match, and he wasted little time making an impact as the Kangaroos put Scotland to the sword.

But in one final showdown before the knockout stages, coach Meninga is expected to pick Cleary and Cherry-Evans alongside each other in the halves when he names his side on Wednesday for the clash against Italy.

While both are fighting for the starting spot, Cleary made it clear that he is looking forward to mixing it up with his Maroons rival.

"We're going to mix it up a bit," Cleary said.

"We'll just see how it's going and who's got the flow at the time.

"Daly is so good I can float around and work off him, it's something new for both of us.

"I'm actually not sure (who is the halfback and five-eighth). I wear No.14 and he wears No.2. The idea for us is that we're wanting to work together as much as we can."

Nathan Cleary (pictured) runs with the ball during the Rugby League World Cup.
Nathan Cleary (pictured) is fighting it out with Daly Cherry-Evans for the halfback role at the World Cup. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images) (Naomi Baker via Getty Images)

Nathan Cleary receives backing for halfback role

The debate over the halfback role has been heating up, but Cleary appears to have edged out his Queensland rival.

On Thursday, former NSW half Jamie Soward tweeted his derision that a debate was still ongoing over who should lead Australia going forward.

NRL great Greg Alexander also reflected this sentiment.

Looking ahead to the likely semi-final showdown against New Zealand - which some believe is Australia's hardest game - Alexander called for Meninga to call on Cleary for the blockbuster.

“I think Cleary is the number one option … after what he’s done, I think Nathan Cleary deserves to be the number seven on the back of his form for the last two years,” Alexander said on SEN.

“We haven’t played international football since 2019. Since 2019, Cleary’s gone to a Grand Final, won two Grand Finals, won an Origin series – didn’t win this year’s Origin series, but that didn’t mean he played poorly.

“Queensland beat New South Wales in the decider by six points or eight points, so it was a tight series.

“Cleary was fantastic in Game II, so an incumbency really doesn’t mean much because it’s that long ago; it’s three years ago.”

with AAP

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