August 12, 2022

Kangaroos halfback job could be decided this Sunday if Queensland clinch series in Perth

3 min read

BY CURTIS WOODWARD

@woodward_curtis

Queensland captain Daly Cherry-Evans will be one step closer to securing his incumbent Kangaroos halfback jersey against New South Wales opposite Nathan Cleary if he can lead his side to an unbeatable 2-nil series lead at Perth’s Optus Stadium on Sunday night.

Cleary was an afterthought in Game I and delivered one of the worst games of his career as NSW went down in a 16-10 upset in front of 80,512 shocked supporters in Sydney while Cherry-Evans scored a terrific solo try for the Maroons and kicked well throughout the second half.

It’s a must-win match for the Blues to keep the series alive but a loss would almost certainly put Cherry-Evans in pole position to get first crack at the Aussie number 7 jumper at this year’s World Cup in England.

An improved showing from Cleary this weekend and a NSW win will set up a tantalising showdown at Suncorp Stadium on the 13th of July.

Despite 12 appearances already for the Blues, the premiership-winning Penrith ace is yet to represent the Kangaroos due to COVID restrictions in recent years.

Australia has not played since November of 2019 where they went down to Tonga 16-12 in Auckland – a match where Cherry-Evans partnered current Maroons half Cameron Munster.

In February, Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga said Cherry-Evans was still ahead of Cleary as preferred national half.

“Daly is definitely the one to beat,” Meninga told The Australian.

“Nathan Cleary is pretty close behind him.

“It’s going to be an interesting year. Whoever comes out on top of that battle will probably be the national seven.”

Cleary put the heartbreak of Origin I behind him just a few days later, leading the Panthers to a dominant 42-6 showing over the Knights in Newcastle.

“Getting the body right was the easy thing. I think it was probably more the mental side of it,” Cleary said post-match.

“That’s the hardest part especially after a disappointing loss.

“Just trying to sort of assess that then put it behind and focus on this game.

“I’m pretty lucky with the group we have here, they just bring that energy back up and it was a pleasure to be back around them and it made me feel good ready to go.

“I had two days off after, so that gave me time to assess what happened and put it behind me then focus on this game.

“I was kind of lucky that we were able to back up this weekend and just get out there and play again, so it was good.”

The mighty Lions tour of 1992, a dubious 100-metre sprint and a legendary British win at the home of the Carlton Blues

If you argued just a few short weeks ago that Cleary was in danger of not making his Kangaroos debut in Australia’s opening World Cup fixture against Fiji at Headingly on the 15th of October, you’d probably be laughed out of the country.

All this could be tomorrow’s fish and chip paper if the Blues fire back in Game II – especially so if the Panthers continue on their expected run to a third consecutive NRL grand final appearance.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t pressure on Nathan Cleary this Sunday.

Cherry-Evans is still the incumbent Kangaroos halfback, after all.

@woodward_curtis

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