Daly Cherry-Evans failed to cement the halfback role opening the door for Nathan Cleary to take his spot after the Kangaroos’ 42-8 win over Fiji.
Meanwhile, Harry Grant outshone Ben Hunt at dummyhalf as some key Kangaroos selection dilemmas emerged.
Read on for the key talking points from Australia’s World Cup win over Fiji.
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DCE FAILS TO FIRE AS DOOR OPENS FOR CLEARY
Daly Cherry-Evans failed to cement the Kangaroos halfback jersey in a mixed bag in Australia’s opener, opening the door for Nathan Cleary to take his spot.
Cherry-Evans was by no means poor, but had two glaring errors to go with 41 run metres, a linebreak assist and a try assist, although he was solid in defence with 20 tackles without a miss.
Greg Alexander believes Mal Meninga has a dilemma in terms of rotating his squad and also building combinations for the knockout stages of the tournament.
“In terms of working combinations, Australia will have new players come in for the next game you would think in those positions that are up for grabs,” Alexander said.
“The halves, the back-rowers and possibly even in the centres and the wingers.
“But once you decide on who your best team is, do you then play that team, so that they can work combinations?”
Braith Anasta questioned if Cherry-Evans had done enough to cement his starting spot.
“The spotlight was really on Daly Cherry-Evans and how he performed in the No.7 role,” Anasta said.
“How did you see his performance? Was it good enough to maintain the role throughout the World Cup?”
Corey Parker believes Cherry-Evans may not start at halfback again as Australia aims to build for the sudden death phase of the tournament.
“Well when there is a player like Nathan Cleary sitting on the sidelines watching Daly Cherry-Evans and it has been the talking headline right up to the build-up to this game,” Parker said.
“Who is going to get the No.7 jersey? And as Brandy just touched on when you do decide what your best 17 is going to look like, you need to really start to implement that so you can work on those combinations.
“I don’t know if Daly Cherry-Evans will play another game at halfback.”
“You think he might be done for the World Cup?” Anasta pressed Parker.
“Well I think he may be,” Parker said.
“Provided everything goes well in terms of players not getting injury, how do you dislodge somebody like Nathan Cleary?
“Yes Cleary is still yet to prove himself in an Australian jersey, but Daly Cherry-Evans has been there for a long period of time.
“It was a mixed bag from him. A couple of kicks didn’t go where he needed. A couple of passes didn’t go where he needed. And from your halfback you really need that.
“Cleary will get an opportunity against Scotland and I’m sure he will make the most of that, but it is only a short preparation.
“Yes they are the best players in the world the Australians, but you need cohesion.”
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GRANT OUTSHINES HUNT IN DUMMYHALF MASTERCLASS
Harry Grant put forward a compelling case to start after he produced a stunning debut for the Kangaroos to lead Australia to victory.
Grant’s bench cameo saw him finish with 51 run metres from seven runs to go with six tackle busts, two linebreaks, a try assist and a try as well as 23 tackles without a miss in a performance that was unlucky to miss out on man-of-the-match honours to Cameron Munster.
Corey Parker believes Grant was the difference and turned the game after Australia made a slow start to find themselves down 4-0 after 16 minutes.
“There was some really good performers, I thought Angus Crichton was terrific in the forwards,” Parker said.
“Addo-Carr had his stamp on the game and Cameron Munster was man-of-the-match.
“But Harry Grant off the bench was excellent.
“He was unbelievable off the bench. They way he changed the momentum of the game.
“It will be interesting to see if he starts on the bench in the next game or whether he starts at No.9.”
In contrast starting hooker Ben Hunt had just two run metres from one run, an offload and 28 tackles without a miss, while he also gave away a penalty in a sub par performance.
Greg Alexander believes Grant’s superior service and creativity out of dummyhalf could prove too hard for Meninga to ignore.
“Munster did some great things in the second half and was very clever, but I am with Corey (Parker), I thought Harry Grant was the difference,” Alexander said.
“You could notice the difference in the service immediately when he came onto the field.
“I know it is the Queensland model of Ben Hunt starting and Harry Grant off the bench. I don’t know if they stick with that, but Grant was brilliant.”
However, Braith Anasta noted Queensland’s use of the Hunt-Grant combination still was a success for Australia and warned the Storm hooker may not be as devastating in the starting role.
“It still worked,” Anasta said.
“Even though Harry Grant was outstanding, maybe he doesn’t have that impact if he starts.”
However, Alexander believes Australia can’t afford to get off to a slow start in the big end of tournament games against the heavyweights.
“You could be right, but Ben Hunt’s execution was a little off today,” Alexander replied.
“He had a couple of poor passes and I think that was the difference you noticed immediately.”
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CLUNKY AUSSIES FACE SELECTION VS COHESION DILEMMA
Australia may have ran away with it in the second half, but their performance particularly with ball in hand was anything but clinical in their World Cup opener.
With just two pool games remaining against Scotland and Italy, Mal Meninga needs to get his best 17 right before the knockout stages, so that key combinations are firing at the business end of the tournament.
Corey Parker believes Australia’s defence would have impressed Meninga, but cohesion was an issue in attack.
“They were clunky to start,” Parker said.
“We spoke about the combinations and how that is going to look. The longer the tournament goes the better Australia will be.
“Five missed tackles for the game will certainly impress Mal Meninga, but 15 errors is not exactly what they need.
“There is plenty of change still to come to that side. The Grand Final players weren’t playing so we will see what unfolds there.
“When you start to run into the bigger teams in New Zealand and Tonga you need to be squeaky clean.
“It will be interesting to see what Mal Meninga says after this performance, but more importantly where they go.”
Braith Anasta agreed Australia were not as crisp as they would like in attack.
“They lacked cohesion and looked very rusty at the start,” Anasta said.
Greg Alexander believes Australia may have to settle on their best 17 for their final pool game against Italy and ride it through the rest of the tournament unless injuries strike.
“There is a lot of improvement in them.” Alexander said.
“The timing wasn’t perfect and that will come, but that’s the question for Mal.
“So we change all the players up. Yeo will come in at lock. The front-rowers will change. Reagan Campbell-Gillard will get his chance. Cleary will play halfback.
“Australia play Scotland next. After that game does Mal Meninga go, OK my best 17 is this and if I want Munster and Cleary to form a combination I have to play them together.”
Anasta agreed combinations are key come the knockout stages.
“You have got to,” Anasta said of cementing combinations.
“They were rusty at the start of that game. They can’t afford that heading into the finals. They need to get those combinations set.”
Kangaroos coach Meninga was impressed by the attitude of his players in defence, but admitted they had to improve with the ball.
“I was really happy with our defence,” Meninga said post match.
“There is a few things to fix up with the ball, but all in all it was a very good first hitout.
“The effort around our defence and that is attitude, was spot on. All the things we asked of the players they executed really well defensively.
“We have got a bit to do with the ball in hand, but we can fix that up pretty well.
“That was our first hitout for a while, so the cohesion wasn’t where it needs to be, so we talked about it. It was going to be fairly clunky from our point of view playing in our first game of the tournament, so we will improve from here.
“With a bit more match practice and a bit more training we will be better. We have only been over here for a week.
“All those things we will improve as the tournament goes on.”
Meninga revealed the seven players who are yet to play will feature against Scotland and get a chance to push their cases for selection going forward.
“We have got some competition in the team from all 24 players,” Meninga said.
“The rest of the guys will play next week and hopefully put their foot forward and we will grow as the tournament goes on and make the tougher decisions at the back end of it all.”