Cleary, DCE to share chief playmaking duties for final selection shoot-out

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Nathan Cleary insists his eagerness to dethrone Daly Cherry-Evans as the Kangaroos’ No.1 halfback will not cause him to look to gain an advantage as the pair prepare to play together for the first time.

Australia coach Mal Meninga is expected to pick Cleary and Cherry-Evans alongside each other in the halves when he names his side on Wednesday (6pm AEDT) for the weekend’s World Cup clash with Italy.

The pair had extensive time in the halves together as the Kangaroos were put through their paces ahead of their final group game.

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Five-eighth Cameron Munster and others who featured in the Kangaroos’ opening two fixtures are likely to sit out the game at St Helens, which kicks off at 5.30am Sunday AEDT. 

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Utility forward Reuben Cotter has indicated he is set to return after passing concussion protocols.

(Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

But the key plotline will centre on who takes charge of the Kangaroos as the on-field organiser.

Both are natural halfbacks, and adversaries at club and State of Origin level, and Cleary said it would be a balancing act between him and Cherry-Evans as to who controlled the team.

“We’re going to mix it up a bit,” Cleary said.

“We’ll just see how it’s going and who’s got the flow at the time.

“Daly is so good I can float around and work off him, it’s something new for both of us. 

LEEDS, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 15: Daly Cherry-Evans of Australia is tackled by Siti Moceidreke and Viliame Kikau of Fiji during the Rugby League World Cup 2021 Pool B match between Australia and Fiji at Headingley on October 15, 2022 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images for RLWC)

(Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images for RLWC)

“I’m actually not sure (who is the halfback and five-eighth). I wear No.14 and he wears No.2. The idea for us is that we’re wanting to work together as much as we can.”

Cleary said he felt like he belonged in the Kangaroos set-up after his debut against Scotland last week, in which he scored 28 points.

The game with Italy represents one of the last opportunities Meninga will have to consider his selections for the knockout stages, with the halfback position his most pressing.

Cherry-Evans has runs on the board and comes off the back of a successful Origin series with Queensland.

Cleary arrived into camp following the second of his consecutive premierships with Penrith.

And the Panthers playmaker is aware he cannot seek to gain an advantage over Manly’s Cherry-Evans by deviating from the gameplan..

“No one’s thinking, ‘I have to play well, because I want to make the team’,” he said.

“You want to play well for the Kangaroos and want to do the best for the team.

“That’s been the beauty of this team so far – there’s no individuals or ego taking over to try and make themselves look better. 

“It’s about the team looking better.”