Australia boss Mal Meninga admits he wants to see Nathan Cleary have the number seven shirt for the Kangaroos for a “long period of time”.
The Penrith Panthers star has been given the nod ahead of team-mate Daly Cherry-Evans for their quarter-final clash against Lebanon in the World Cup.
Cleary’s connections with international and club team-mates Isaah Yeo and Liam Martin was also a part of Meninga’s thought process.
Meninga, 62, admits it was a difficult decision to leave Cherry-Evans out of his starting line-up but expects Cleary, who at 24 is nine years younger than his State of Origin rival, to wear the number seven jersey for years to come.
Mal Meninga: It’s his jersey now
“I had some sleepless nights, maybe that’s why I’m so crook,” Meninga said, after admitting a virus had swept through the camp.
“It was tough. It went down to those club connections. He’s obviously disappointed but that’s what you want.
“Nath has got the front running at the moment. It’s his jersey now. It’s the start of his career playing for Australia, I’d like to see him have it for a long period of time.”
Australia captain James Tedesco also believes Cleary deserves his chance. The back-to-back NRL winner made his Australia debut in the group game against Scotland. He scored one try and kicked 12 goals during the 84-0 victory in Coventry.
“It’s well deserved,” Tedesco said. “You could have put either of them there. But Nathan is the best player in the game at the moment so it would have been hard to leave him out.
“Nath’s been a bit crook during the week. But you’ve got to expect that with the change of weather and a different environment. I don’t think it’s too serious.”
Australia 19-man squad: 9. Josh Addo-Carr, 13. Patrick Carrigan, 2. Daly Cherry-Evans, 14. Nathan Cleary, 15. Lindsay Collins, 16. Reuben Cotter, 17. Angus Crichton, 18. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, 19. Campbell Graham, 20. Harry Grant, 4. Valentine Holmes, 21. Liam Martin, 8. Latrell Mitchell, 7. Cameron Munster, 11. Cameron Murray, 1. James Tedesco, 5. Jake Trbojevic, 10. Jack Wighton, 24. Isaah Yeo.