NRL great Cooper Cronk has claimed Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga has shown his hand and will prefer Nathan Cleary at halfback when he pairs up with Daly Cherry-Evans this weekend.
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.
However, Meninga will play both Cleary and Cherry-Evans on the weekend against Italy in one final audition for the halfback role to see who partners Cameron Munster.
The coach named the line-up in alphabetical order, which didn't give fans any further clue on which halfback will be shifted to five-eighth for the match.
And former Australian halfback Cronk believes Meninga has shown his hand to who will play the No.7 role this weekend.
“As we saw in the vision of training Cleary was on the right-hand side of the field, which means he is right-side dominant and that is his preferred position," Cronk said on Fox League.
“So Cherry-Evans really needs to stand up and have a big game because Munster will be the five-eighth and Tedesco the fullback.
“I think Mal knows his team and he knows what he wants to stick with, but he is giving guys an opportunity.
“But as we saw I have no doubt that Cleary will be the halfback and Cherry-Evans will be five-eighth because they are both right-side players."
Braith Anasta weighed-in and agreed that Cleary appears to be the firm favourite to line-up as the future halfback.
However, he said that the players won't have a long time to work on their combinations considering whatever pair Meninga moves forward with will have only played one game together come the knockout stage.
Cooper Cronk believes if New Zealand can get their defence right, they've got a good chance of beating Australia in the semi-final.
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NRL great backs Nathan Cleary for halfback
Greg Alexander reiterated his point from earlier this week that Australia play their final a week early, against a strong New Zealand outfit, and said he doesn't think a lack of game time together will hurt combinations.
Earlier in the week, Alexander called for Meninga to call on Cleary for the blockbuster clash against New Zealand.
“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.”
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