Questions were being asked of Nathan Cleary's performance for Australia after an 'average' display in the Green and Gold and an interesting theory about his kicking woes has been revealed.
Australia were criticised for their 'poorest performance' of the World Cup so far after a number of errors in their 48-4 win over Lebanon.
The greatly improved Lebanon proved to be little more than a road bump for the Kangaroos who set up a semi-final with the winner of the quarter-final between New Zealand and Fiji next week at Elland Road, Leeds.
Josh Addo-Carr was the stand out after scoring five tries for the Kangaroos with Cameron Munster also showing his class.
However, one player that was slightly off his lofty-standards was halfback Cleary.
The Penrith star won the race for the halfback role against Daly Cherry-Evans for the clash against Lebanon.
While plenty was expected of Cleary after winning the coveted role, the 24-year-old had a slightly off game with the halfback kicking the ball out on the full after just two minutes.
And Fox Sports commentator Andrew Voss pointed out that Cleary wasn't striking the ball cleanly at Huddersfield in front of the 8,206 fans.
“Well, that’s a nervous start from Nathan Cleary. That is most unusual,” Voss said in commentary.
“There is something wrong with Nathan Cleary’s strike of the ball. That is just not seen in the NRL from Nathan Cleary.”
Cleary also went on to miss three of his first four conversions, which is unusual for the sharpshooter.
And Love Rugby League editor James Gordon claimed the players felt a difference in the ball used for the quarter-final.
Interesting discussion about the match ball in the Australia press conference - apparently slightly smaller and lighter than what they use in NRL. Nathan Cleary doing plenty of practising to try and adjust. #RLWC2021
— James Gordon (@jdgsport) November 4, 2022
— Paul Kneeshaw (@Stick_Beetle) November 4, 2022
Regardless, Cleary had the backing of his teammates and coach after the vital win.
Nathan Cleary admits tough quarter-final clash
Following the match, Mal Meninga defended Cleary after admitting the display from the whole team was rather 'clunky'.
When asked about Cleary's performance, Meninga admitted the ruck speed may have impacted his game.
"Oh well, it was a pretty slow play the ball. So they were putting pressure on him and it's just the way it is over here," he said.
However, Cleary admitted there was room for improvement before the next match against either New Zealand or Fiji.
“I just have to keep putting my best foot forward. I was pretty average tonight so I’ve just got to keep working hard," he said post-match.
Regardless, Australia were still lethal thanks to an Addo-Carr masterclass.
The pick of his five tries came when Cameron Munster pulled off a ball steal on Lebanon fullback Jacob Kiraz before passing on for Addo-Carr to finish in the corner.
Latrell Mitchell was next to barge over the line and before half-time interchange forward Cameron Murray had scored two crash-over tries to put the Aussies 30-0 up.
Tedesco was taken off, Munster shifted to fullback and Cherry-Evans played at five-eighth alongside Nathan Cleary.
Addo-Carr added a fourth soon after the break but the biggest cheer of the night came when Lebanon scored through Mansour, the South Sydney winger diving on a Mitchell Moses grubberkick to the in-goal.
Mansour played for Australia in this same fixture at this tournament five years ago and it was to be the only thing the Lebanese had to cheer about in what was a fairly lopsided contest.
Normal service was resumed not long after with Addo-Carr scoring his fifth and Liam Martin crashing over to wrap up a dominant Australian victory.
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