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Meninga braces for brutal Kangaroos calls

Mal Meninga knows a decision on his first-choice halfback is looming as Australia prepare for their final World Cup group game.

Mal Meninga knows a decision on his first-choice halfback is looming as Australia prepare for their final World Cup group game. Photo: AAP

Mal Meninga has had fun by keeping people guessing over the make-up of his first-choice Kangaroos team – but the Australian coach says the looming call on his No.1 halfback will be no laughing matter.

Meninga took the unorthodox approach of releasing the team for this Saturday’s (Sunday AEDT) final Rugby League World Cup group game with Italy in St Helens in alphabetical order rather than by position.

It’s the first time Daly Cherry-Evans and Nathan Cleary will have played together, but by releasing his team list from A to Z, Meninga has not avoided the headache of anointing either of them as his halfback.

“I just threw that (the alphabetical teamsheet) in to amuse people, I got a lot of amusement out of it,” he said.

“I threw a bit of a curveball and it created a bit of interest and commentary.”

With a quarter-final path that would likely pit his side against Lebanon before a probable semi-final against New Zealand, Meninga knows a crunch decision is looming with the role of halfback the most close-run.

Six years into the role, Meninga explained that telling people they weren’t in his side was still the “worst part of the job”.

“I’m getting closer to (knowing) what we’ll do with our best 19 players to take us forward,” he said.

“There’s an important game this week and I feel there’s a few positions that are up for grabs.

“It’s going to be a tough job singling out players, but that’s what I do.

“The tough part is going to be giving them a reason why they didn’t make it.”

Both traditional halfbacks Cherry-Evans and Cleary said earlier this week that they would split the key playmaking decisions.

Neither are wedded to being the team’s organising No. 7 or the running five-eighth, and Meninga said he was pleased with how quickly they had found a chemistry with first-choice No. 6 Cameron Munster afforded a week off.

“They have bonded really well,” Meninga said.

“They muck around together all the time as well and have sorted out their roles, which is fantastic.”

They are not the only ones with question marks over their roles, with Meninga still needing to work out the composition of his forward pack.

The Kangaroos coach is likely to start captain James Tedesco against the Italians, who he represented at the last two World Cups, with Meninga set to give Latrell Mitchell time at fullback.

“He was doing extras on it all (earlier this week),” Meninga said. “He didn’t enjoy sitting out last week so he’s raring to go.”

– AAP

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