You have skipped the navigation, tab for page content
'Dream team': Meninga to make halfback call for World Cup finals

Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga is ready to make arguably the toughest selection decision of his coaching career and choose either Daly Cherry-Evans or Nathan Cleary to play halfback in what is literally his World Cup “dream team”.

After watching the pair play half a game each at halfback and five-eighth in Australia’s 66-6 defeat of a spirited Italy at St Helens to secure top place in Pool B, Meninga revealed he’d had a dream about picking the team for the sudden-death stages of the World Cup.

“We are going to review the tape again but in the back of your mind as a coach, you try to pick your best 17 as you go along and honestly, I had a dream last night about what the team should be, how important the bench is and things like that,” Meninga said.

“You are constantly thinking about it all the time and I have got to settle on something very, very soon.”

DCE: 'I'm hoping that's not the last one'

If the match against Italy was a selection trial between Cherry-Evans and Cleary for the halfback role, there was little that separated the pair, who each produced three try assists.

Cherry-Evans, who was Australia’s halfback before COVID halted the momentum of the international game after the 2019 season, is one of the few players to have played in England and skippered Queensland to Origin glory alongside Cameron Munster and hookers Ben Hunt and Harry Grant.

However, Cleary is arguably the best player in the game and has led Penrith to back-to-back premierships with lock Isaah Yeo and second-rower Liam Martin.

“It is always a special moment to play for Australia so to get a couple more games on this tour has been really special and something I will always cherish,” Cherry-Evans said.

“I am definitely ambitious for more but I just don’t know what is going to happen so I have just got to keep enjoying it. It’s been a great tour so far and we are having a lot of fun.

“I am pretty relaxed with that sort of stuff. Don’t get me wrong I wanted to be named for next week and moving forward but … whatever happens it is out of my hands now, and if I get another opportunity, I will take it with both hands.”

Cleary happy with Kangaroos progress

Cleary said: “I will be supporting Mal’s decision no matter what and what’s great about this team is that there’s not much ego. Everyone is just grateful to pull on a Kangaroos jersey.”

After giving each of his 24-man squad two games in the group stages of the World Cup, Meninga said the time for experimenting was over as Australia face a quarter-final clash with Lebanon followed by a semi-final against New Zealand.

“My plan and the team’s plan is that from the quarter finals we will have our best available team for as long as we are in the tournament,” Meninga said.

“It is a tough decision, we all know that. That’s the Kangaroos; that’s wearing the green and gold jersey. There are 24 players who are worthy of playing in their positions going forward. Everyone deserves to be there so will have to make those decisions soon.”

Asked what his decision would be based on, Meninga said: “It obviously comes down to performance, it comes down to training, it comes down to off-field behaviour, it comes down to the balance of the footy team, it comes down combinations, it comes down to who is fit and healthy at a particular time”.

He also said he would talk to Kangaroo captain James Tedesco about the role and would have a conversation with the Australian coaches.

“It comes down to having a conversation and a chat with all the coaches,” Meninga said.

“The difficult thing is that they are all playing really well so they are difficult conversations, what excuse can you utilise for why you aren’t playing because it will come down to all those little things.

“I will make that decision and then it is very important that I have that honest conversation with the players about the reason why they either miss our or they make the footy side.

“Whichever No.7 gets to play there is still pressure on them because you have got this other great No.7 that can push his way into the footy team.”

Cleary said he had enjoyed playing with Cherry-Evans for what may have been the only time in his career.

'Special moment' for Tedesco facing Italy

“In the first half I was more of the halfback and in the second half he was the halfback. We sort of swapped at halftime,” he said.

“It is the sort of dynamic that could cause headaches, but I thought we did it quite well and worked together and didn’t step on each other’s toes. Chez is a great player, so it was just fun playing alongside him.

“It’s not every day you get to play alongside players who have done so much in the game. It has been the theme of the tour, just trying to create good memories. There are a lot of things that will probably never happen again so it’s good.”

Cherry-Evans said he was prepared for whatever decision Meninga makes.

Kangaroos and Jillaroos nominate best dressed in new kit

“I knew what I was signing up for,” he said. “Mal told me before we come that this was always going to be an open competition. He said he would love me to be here and fight for a spot.

“I love those competitions. I knew coming over here I was either going to be playing for Australia for the whole time or having to be a bit selfless and do something special for a young group coming through so either way I am happy to have an impact on this World Cup, ideally on the field.”

Acknowledgement of Country

Penrith Panthers players and staff respect and honour the traditional custodians of the land and pay our respects to their elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.