Huddersfield: Kangaroos halfback Nathan Cleary admits he’ll hand over goalkicking duties for the World Cup semi and final if he can’t fix his accuracy issues this week.
Australia are expected to face New Zealand in the semi-final next weekend in a game many believe will go down to the wire – and Cleary is out of form off the tee.
The 24-year-old is one of the best goal-kickers in the NRL, but he missed three of his first four conversion against Lebanon in the quarterfinal on Saturday AEST.
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Cleary booted 6/9 in the 48-4 thumping of the Cedars, but several of his sideline attempts failed to make the distance.
Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga believes the balls at the tournament in England are slightly lighter and smaller.
But Cleary, who converted at 85.4 per cent in the NRL this year but his world World Cup ratio is just 75 per cent, refused to blame the ball.
Cleary vowed to fix his kicking woes during the week but said if he’s not feeling confident ahead of the semis that he’ll hand over the reins.
Cowboys sharp shooter Valentine Holmes kicked in the Kangaroos tournament opener when Cleary was rested and slotted seven from seven, while Rabbitohs superstar Latrell Mitchell is another option.
“I need to watch it back and work it out,” Cleary said.
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“I think there are little things I can adjust. We will do it this week. I can’t blame the balls. It is pretty cold but it is not dissimilar to Penrith.
“It was just – excuse my French – shit kicking. I’ll work hard at it and try to get better but if it keeps going that way I’ve got pretty good goalkickers in the team as well.
“At training this week I’ll make some slight adjustments and if it works, I’ll feel confident to kick and if I’m not striking them too well then there’s great goalkickers in the team.
“If I was (missing) when I was younger I’d be stressing out heavy, but I’ve definitely gotten better at when something doesn’t go right I can move on to the next thing.”
Australia’s skipper James Tedesco backed Cleary to continue kicking and Meninga said he’d let the players decide.
“I’ll let the players sort that out, they’re the confident ones,” Meninga said.
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“Nathan is a mid-80s goalkicker. Nathan probably over practices at times. We’re leaving him behind now he practises that bloody long. We want to get back for lunch.”
“He’s working his butt off to get it right. They’re a bit lighter. They’re a bit smaller. Just a fraction smaller and a fraction lighter than what we have in Australia.”
The Kangaroos will face the world No. 1 side in the semis if the Kiwis get past Fiji on Sunday AEST.
New Zealand used several kickers in the group stages and they converted at just 58.6 per cent, while host nation England knocked them over at 83.3 per cent.
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