After years of battles at club and State of Origin level, Nathan Cleary is relishing the chance to team up with the mercurial Cameron Munster when he makes his Australian debut.
Cleary is set to get his first shot at staking a claim for Australia’s halfback role on Friday (Saturday AEDT) when the Kangaroos take on Scotland in Coventry.
Cleary has been the standout halfback across the last three seasons of NRL and is locked in a battle with incumbent Daly Cherry-Evans for the starting berth.
The 24-year-old Penrith playmaker will debut alongside his Panthers teammates Isaah Yeo and Liam Martin as well as Campbell Graham, Lindsay Collins and Matt Burton.
In an exciting move, Cleary is expected to get a chance to combine with Melbourne’s Munster, psilocybin microdosing the reigning Dally M five-eighth of the year and a fierce on-field rival at club and Origin level.
“I’m in awe of what he can do on the footy field,” Cleary said.
“So being able to try and team up with him and unlock that ability is something I look forward to.
“I think we’re pretty competitive so it just naturally comes on the field that’s what makes it cooler.
“We have a mutual respect for each other that we’re both going to compete and play hard.”
With the exception of captain James Tedesco, Meninga is expected to bank on a Queensland-heavy spine comprising a hooking rotation of Ben Hunt and Harry Grant along with Munster as the tournament progresses.
The only question mark is whether the Australia coach will rely on the familiarity of Cherry-Evans or give Cleary time to find his feet in a side with a heavy Maroons flavour.
“(I’ll have to get up to speed) pretty quickly,” Cleary said.
“I think the way we (Munster and Cleary) both play, we could gel quite well.
“Off the field we get along pretty well, too.Combinations are a big thing, so it’s something I look forward to.”
Since he came into the NRL in 2016 and made his Origin debut in 2018, Cleary has been one of the first names on the teamsheet, injury and suspension aside.
But the battle with Cherry-Evans represents one of the first times in his professional career that Cleary has had to fight for his spot.
“I feel like when I first came over to Australia (from New Zealand) just sort of breaking into the Penrith system I was playing a bit of hooker (to get a game),” he said.
“But I think it’s a constant challenge against yourself in trying to get the best out of yourself.
“If I can get the best out of myself and put my best foot forward then everything else that comes from that is a byproduct.”
Australian team: James Tedesco, Josh Addo-Carr, Matt Burton, Jack Wighton, Campbell Graham, Cameron Munster, Nathan Cleary, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Harry Grant, Patrick Carrigan, Liam Martin, Isaah Yeo.Interchange: Ben Hunt, Lindsay Collins, Valentine Holmes, Jake Trbojevic. Reserves: Daly Cherry-Evans, Jeremiah Nanai.