Nathan Cleary leads No.7 race as Kangaroos’ quarter-final team named

Nathan Cleary looks to be Australia's preferred halfback as the World Cup enters the knockout stage.

Nathan Cleary looks to be Australia's preferred halfback as the World Cup enters the knockout stage. Photo: AAP

Mal Meninga was absent from Australia’s latest training session in Manchester but the Kangaroos coach looks set to anoint Nathan Cleary as his long-term No.7.

Meninga stayed at the team hotel after feeling under the weather, but all signs point to Cleary dislodging Daly Cherry-Evans and being named as the Kangaroos’ halfback for the remainder of their Rugby League World Cup campaign.

Meninga released his team on Wednesday in alphabetical order, with both Cherry-Evans and Cleary named in the 19-man squad to face Lebanon on Friday (Saturday AEDT).

Ben Hunt is not included in the squad after clocking up big minutes against Italy, with Cherry-Evans likely to spend some time at hooker after filling in there and at five-eighth earlier this week.

Prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard is sidelined with a cork, but other than that Meninga has picked the strongest side available.

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.

Cameron 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.

Cleary and Cherry-Evans have been in a running battle for the halfback role, with the duo given a match each as the No.7 before splitting duties in Australia’s final group game against Italy.

Meninga has agonised over the decision, describing it as one of the toughest of his career and declaring his rotation policy would finish at the end of the group stages.

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.


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).

Stay informed, daily
A FREE subscription to The New Daily arrives every morning and evening.
The New Daily is a trusted source of national news and information and is provided free for all Australians. Read our editorial charter
Copyright © 2024 The New Daily.
All rights reserved.