Demoted Kangaroos halfback Daly Cherry-Evans said he was disappointed to lose his starting spot, but in a gracious nod to teammate Nathan Cleary, admitted the halfback position went to a player “tracking to be one of the greats”.
Cleary trumped Cherry-Evans, being named halfback for Australia’s World Cup quarterfinal against Lebanon on Saturday morning (AEDT), after the pair battled it out this year for the position.
While Cherry-Evans came from the bench in the 48-4 win over the Cedars, it was likely his last game for the Kangaroos this tournament as hooker Ben Hunt looks set to return to the lineup after being rested.
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Cherry-Evans said getting dropped to the bench was a bitter pill to swallow, but emphasized that he couldn’t be bogged down by the decision.
“There was definitely a moment when (coach) Mal (Meninga) told me I wasn’t going to start, that I was disappointed,” he said.
“But once you feel that initial disappointment you’ve just got to focus on what you can control and the last thing I needed to be doing was kicking stones. You’ve just got to take it in and move on quickly.
“The whole tournament has probably been built up around him and me competing and obviously we have been trying to work towards the halfback spot but at no stage have we felt the need to get in each other’s way, we’ve only tried to help each other.
“That’s a sign of Nath’s character too, he’s an awesome fella. I’m learning a heap off him and it can only help the team that I’m helping him as well.”
Cherry-Evans stressed that Meninga had been upfront with him throughout the tournament and backed Cleary to hold onto the jumper for many years to come.
“I’m really happy for Nathan… it’s going to be his jersey for a long time,” he said.
“He’s definitely tracking to be one of the greats of the game.
“I’ve got a lot of admiration for what he’s done this early in his career…No doubt about it he’s going about it in a really nice fashion.
“If he keeps his head on and keeps working as hard as he’s working, he’s going to have a very special career.”
Cleary described the moment Meninga confirmed he’d be starting as “very surreal”, and revealed Cherry-Evans was the first to congratulate him.
“Daly was such a man about it as well, he came up to me straight away and said, ‘Anything you need I’ll help you out’… he’s a legend,” Cleary said.
“It’s hard though, I was glad he got to play tonight and it’s just a surreal feeling to play alongside these guys.
“I just have to keep putting my best foot forward. I was pretty average tonight so I’ve just got to keep working hard.”
Making his international debut in 2011, Cherry-Evans has played 18 games for Australia.
The 33-year-old said that if this was the end of his representative career, he was proud of what he had achieved in the green and gold.
“Definitely proud but I’ve never been one to put timelines on things,” he said.
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“[I’m] really just looking to get one more game at a time and hopefully do something special with Australia.
“I guess when it’s time to reflect when I retire I’ll be pretty proud of a fair few things but I am hoping that the career isn’t done just yet.
“I’ve been given the opportunity tonight to come off the bench which I’m really grateful for and I know how special this team is, and I’ll take a bench spot.
“I’ll take this opportunity with both hands and if something happens over the next few weeks I’ll be more than ready to step in as a starter.”
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