Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga has a tough decision to make leading into his side’s first game against Fiji on Sunday morning.
While Nathan Cleary was seen as a shoe-in for Australia’s halfback jumper early in the season, Daly Cherry-Evans’ Origin heroics threw a spanner in the works.
When asked which player Meninga will most likely go with, veteran journalist Phil Rothfield said Cleary’s individual performances have earned him the right to be given the nod.
Watch every match of the Rugby League World Cup LIVE & Exclusive to Fox Sports, on Kayo. New to Kayo? Start your free trial now >
Desperate Dolphins turn sights to Moses | 00:37
However, Rothfield added that the fact that many of the squad’s key spine players were Maroons representatives could be invaluable given the importance of cohesion.
“That’s the toughest question in rugby league and I’ll tell you why,” Rothfield told Sky Racing’s Big Sports Breakfast.
“On face value and what Cleary has done the last two years to steer that magnificent Penrith side to premierships is an automatic selection to the Australian side, he’s the number one halfback.
MORE NRL NEWS
OFF-SEASON ISSUES: Cleary’s huge Panthers headache; Cowboys’ $2m scramble
‘PIECE OF THE PIE’: Bears promised huge $15m funding to become 18th franchise
POLICE FOOTY BRAWL: Punches thrown in wild brawl as officers condemned
‘TOUGH DECISION’: The ‘unfortunate’ reason behind Panthers hero’s Aus snub
OFF-SEASON ISSUES: Broncos’ $2.4m headache; Dragons’ ugly exodus
Lane resigns for Eels for three years! | 00:31
“Working against that is the fact that in State of Origin Cameron Munster was the five eighth and Daly Cherry-Evans was the halfback.
“Also in State of Origin Ben Hunt and Harry Grant were the hookers so what’s keeping Cherry-Evans in the race is the fact that he has those relationships with the key spine players from Queensland.
“Personally I would probably go with Cleary, I think he deserves the spot but you know what the World Cup starts this weekend, it’s going to be fascinating on and off the field, not just in the games but selections, team selections that Mal Meninga comes up.”
Get all the latest NRL news, highlights and analysis delivered straight to your inbox with Fox Sports Sportmail. Sign up now!!!
Meninga explained the halfback call when announcing his squad last week, telling reporters that Cherry-Evans’ form in Origin played a part in his decision.
“It is a good question, but Daly is the incumbent as well, so he was there three years ago and had a really good season, particularly in Origin,” Meninga said.
“Origin is considered the biggest series of the year, we will consider all options, that is what a tour is about.
“Everyone will have an opportunity to prove that they deserve to be at the back-end of the tour.
“All players will get an opportunity to play and put their hand up to play at the back-end of the tour when it does matter.”
Australia’s World Cup campaign kicks off on Sunday 5:30am, where they’ll take on Fiji at Headingley Stadium, Leeds.