‘Lightweight’ English rugby league balls to blame for Nathan Cleary’s poor goal-kicking, says Mal Meninga

It has been an almost faultless World Cup campaign so far for Australia.

The Kangaroos have won all their matches without getting out of second gear and remain heavy favourites to defend their World Cup crown.

Perhaps the only blot on the copy book of the reigning champions so far has been their goal-kicking and in particular that of Nathan Cleary, with the playmaker missing nine shots over three games.

With fellow goal-kickers Valentine Holmes and Latrell Mitchell waiting in the wings, the pressure will be on Cleary when he steps up in the semi-final showdown against New Zealand.

The Penrith half-back will know any missed shots in the game at Elland Road could prove costly, with Australia expected to be run close by the Kiwis in Friday’s game.

Speaking about the goal-kicking conundrum, Kangaroos boss Mal Meninga says that Cleary, who is renowned for his extras during in training, has fallen victim to a different weighted ball in the UK.

Speaking to the Australian Daily Mail, Meninga said: “We’re leaving him behind now he practises that bloody long. We want to get back for lunch.

“The balls are different over here. 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.”

Despite his head coach cutting him some slack, Cleary himself is making no excuses and recognises the role will be passed on to someone else if he doesn’t improve.

Cleary said: “I need to watch it back and work it out. 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, s*** kicking. If it keeps going that way, we have pretty good goal kickers in the team as well.”

As mentioned, Cleary and Australia are now preparing for a blockbuster semi-final against New Zealand, having overcome Lebanon on Friday, with the Kiwis struggling past Fiji on Saturday to set up the mouth-watering semi-final clash in Leeds.

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