Five things we learned as Australia reach World Cup semi-finals

Australia still have room to improve insists coach Mal Meninga

4 Nov 2022

Five things we learned as Australia reach World Cup semi-finals

Australia still have room to improve insists coach Mal Meninga

By James Toney at the John Smith's Stadium

There were plenty of positives for Australia as they swatted aside Lebanon 48-4 but also room for improvement for their ever-demanding coach Mal Meninga.

Josh Addo-Carr's five-try haul - equalling Valentine Holmes' effort against Samoa in the 2017 World Cup quarter-final - will rightly hog the headlines in Huddersfield.

But the Kangaroos made 13 errors and completed at 68 percent, their stats more scrappy after the break with the win seemingly well banked, complacency they can't afford in the semi-finals.

Here's five things we learned as the Kangaroos now wait for the winner of Saturday's clash between New Zealand and Fiji.

READ MORE: Match in Pictures: Australia 48 Lebanon 4

Are the Aussie's battle-hardened enough?

After four one-sided wins, the big question remains, what have we really learned about Australia?

Obviously the Kangaroos are a world-class team stacked with NRL talent but they've won well against teams they should win well against, though the second half show here was certainly less than fluent.

Coach Mal Meninga will say all the right things about respecting the opposition but, in truth, there's not been much - or any - jeopardy in their four games to date. Indeed the big battle has been internally for selection.

Five years ago in Melbourne they edged England 18-4 in their first match, properly firing their challenge for the Paul Barrière Trophy. In 2013 they also had a tense group encounter against England in Cardiff, which they only won 28-20.

Building momentum through a big tournament is key but so is arriving at the big matches battle hardened and braced for impact.

"There is nothing better than internal competition,” said Meninga earlier this week. Time will tell 

Under microscope Cleary stutters early on before finding his range

Nathan Cleary is never too many keystrokes away when writing Australian talking points.

Having finally seen off the challenge of Daly Cherry-Evans for the defending champions's prized halfback slot, his kicking form suddenly deserted him on a still night in Huddersfield.

Cleary boosts an 85% kicking average for NRL side Penrith Panthers but missed three of his first four goal attempts. His final figures were six from nine in front of the sticks.

However, the world's number one player brings more than just a normally trusty right boot to his game - and pulled the strings with several assists as the Kangaroos brushed aside the Cedars.

But by his lofty standards, he will see plenty of room for improvement.

Tedesco's absence sees Kangaroos form slip after break

Meninga's biggest satisfaction in recent weeks has been the resilience of his defence, something he knows will be crucial whoever they face in the semi-final at Elland Road.

Josh Mansour's try for the Cedars, with the game out of reach, was even cheered by the Aussies in the crowd, while Meninga sat stony-faced in the stands.

After the interval Australia were scrappy, struggling to make their way through the sets and seeing the error count tick relentlessly upwards. 

Whether that was because Lebanon improved - with nothing to lose - or Australia stepped back - with an eye on the final four - is open to debate.

The absence of captain James Tedesco, who emerged with half-time to sit on the bench, his knee iced as a precaution, was obvious.

And it resulted in the big pre-match talking point coming true, Cleary and Cherry-Evans playing together in the halves while Cameron Munster dropped to full back.

No rooms for errors in battles to come

This had seemed a significant step up for the defending champions, who scored 34 tries to three during the group stages and had breezed through their last two games against Scotland and Italy.

Coach Meninga has tinkered with his line-up in the past three weeks but if these are his first-choice starters they had some initial nervy moments before finding their range and rhythm in the first half.

Cleary skewed his first kick from hand straight into touch while Valentine Holmes spilled a high-ball and was lucky to get away with it - against semi-final opposition this won't go unpunished.

Addo-Carr is running out of bespoke celebrations

New South Wales coach Brad Fittler seemingly did Australia the biggest favour by leaving five-try hero Josh Addo-Carr out of the State of Origin. He's certainly playing every match with a point to prove since arriving in England, with the Kangaroo now one try ahead of England's Dom Young in the try scoring charts.

He's scored 11 tries in his four games so far, though he may not cut through the defences of Australia's final four opponents with such ease as he's done against Fiji, Scotland and Lebanon.

The biggest question - after he pulled out a different celebration for every try, including the classic Usain Bolt lighting pose, is what has he got left if he scores again?

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

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