4 Nov 2022
Meninga recognises cross-code Cheika's aura ahead of Lebanon showdown
Australia take on the Cedars for a place in the last four of the World Cup
By Luke Power
Mal Meninga appreciates “the aura of Michael Cheika” as he prepares to face the former Wallabies coach in the Kangaroos’ quarter-final clash against Lebanon tonight in Huddersfield.
Cheika is a cross-code operator, juggling his role as Lebanon head coach in the Rugby League World Cup with Argentina’s top job in rugby union and faces a dash down to the capital after watching his team under the Friday night lights with the Pumas in action against England at Twickenham on Sunday.
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And after steering his side out of Group C with impressive victories over Ireland and Jamaica, following the opening 34-12 defeat to the Kiwis, the Sydney-born mastermind presents a tactical challenge that Meninga fully recognises.
Meninga said: “Lebanon are playing some really good footy. They’re very expansive. They’ve got some really talented players in their halves.
“The wingers are doing really well, (Jacob) Kiraz at full-back is doing really well, and there’s the aura of Michael Cheika and what rugby union can bring to rugby league. We’ll expect the unexpected.
“We’re very aware of who we’re playing against and very respectful of that. We’ve come to play the way we want to play.”
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Australia are heavy favourites to progress through tonight’s encounter but captain James Tedesco says there will be no complacency about the threat the Cedars pose.
“They’ve been awesome,” said Tedesco. “They’ve been playing some good footy led by Mitch (Moses) and (Adam) Doueihi in the halves.
“They’re trying new things and creating a lot of plays. It’s exciting footy that they’re playing and they gave New Zealand a bit of a test at the start of the World Cup. We can’t just go there and expect to win. We’ve got to go there and create and do all the little things right.”
Having played just four internationals since the 2017 World Cup, and with only five survivors from that campaign in the current squad, Tedesco admits that the new-look Australia team has had to gel on the job.
He said: “We’ve had three games to get our combinations right and get our cobwebs out. We’ve got to play our best footy now – coming to the quarters, it’s do or die.”
The Australian camp has been hit by a virus in the run-up to the tie, with Meninga himself absent from one midweek training session due to illness.
“I’m okay. The virus got me a bit woozy with the head and dizziness,” he smiled. “I think that’s what happens when you get a bit older!”
The Rugby League World Cup promises to be the biggest, best and most inclusive event in the sport’s 127-year history with men’s, women’s and wheelchair teams competing in 61 games across 21 venues throughout England. Tickets are available via rlwc2021.com/tickets