In-form playmaker Daly Cherry-Evans has beaten Robbie Farah to a spot in the Kangaroos squad for the Rugby League World Cup quarter-final against the United States.
Manly halfback Cherry-Evans looks set to secure a place on the interchange bench for the match at Wrexham after earning selection in Tim Sheens’ 20-man squad named on Wednesday.
The Clive Churchill medallist impressed playing in the halves in two of Australia’s group matches and his selection comes at the expense of Wests Tigers hooker Farah, one of three players left out of the squad.
Josh Morris and Michael Jennings were the others omitted, indicating veteran Brent Tate is likely to hold on to the contentious right centre spot with Sheens looking to pick his best available team after rotating the group in recent games.
Sheens will not name his final 17 until just before Saturday’s game and is keeping his selection cards close to his chest, but he’s revealed vice captain Paul Gallen is in some doubt with a leg problem.
Billy Slater keeps his spot despite his involvement in a nightclub fight earlier this week.
Farah’s omission after playing in all three of Australia’s group games suggests Cherry-Evans has won the battle between the two for the utility bench spot.
But Sheens says the Sea Eagles star is also putting pressure on first-choice halves Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston.
“He has applied enough pressure to keep both boys on their toes,” Sheens said.
“He has certainly got them looking over their shoulder – that’s a great thing.
“No one is really comfortable.”
Cherry-Evans was one of Australia’s best players in the wins over Fiji and Ireland – named man of the match in the latter – but Sheens says his selection ahead of Farah also comes down to providing injury cover for his halves.
The coach insists Farah is still in the mix for selection later in the tournament.
“The criteria I’m using is `who can cover’. There’s two halves and one hooker, so there are two players that might get injured rather than one,” Sheens said.
“… At this point I’ve covered the seven and the six but it’s not to say that’s the end of it.
“I’ve given both guys a bit of football … so if I need them in the next three games. Whichever way I go, I can use them.”
While North Queensland veteran Tate looks likely to partner Greg Inglis in the centres, Sheens could instead opt to go with Jarryd Hayne following the Parramatta star’s two-try performance against Ireland.
“That’s one of the most contentious positions,” Sheens said.
“I’ll play that very close to my chest until game time.”
A victory against tournament surprise packets the Tomahawks would set up a semi-final against either Samoa or Fiji.
Australian 20-man squad:
Cameron Smith (capt), Paul Gallen (vc), Greg Bird, Darius Boyd, Daly Cherry-Evans, Boyd Cordner, Cooper Cronk, Andrew Fifita, Jarryd Hayne, Greg Inglis, Brett Morris, Nate Myles, Josh Papalii, Corey Parker, Matthew Scott, Billy Slater, James Tamou, Brent Tate, Sam Thaiday, Johnathan Thurston.