RUGBY LEAGUE: Michael Morgan is the frontrunner to win the first crack at filling the boots of Johnathan Thurston as Australia's World Cup rugby league five-eighth.
Morgan is set to start in Australia's tournament opener against England in Melbourne on Friday night, but the in-form Cowboys playmaker must fire to hold the position ahead of Origin five-eighths Cameron Munster and James Maloney for the sudden-death matches.
"Michael has his nose in front to be honest with you. He is the next in line," coach Mal Meninga said yesterday.
"He has played No. 14 (for Australia) and his back-end of the year was terrific. He was the form player of the NRL in the finals.
"Cameron Munster and James Maloney have their claims too. It is a long tournament, so all three guys are in the mix.
"We have three great candidates who understand the big game ethos and pressure.
"All our 24 players will play in the qualifying rounds. I will talk to Cameron and some of the leaders and finalise the team in the next 24 hours."
The choice of Morgan as Cooper Cronk's halves partner would not surprise England coach Wayne Bennett, even though Munster was chosen as five-eighth, with Morgan as a centre, in Queensland's Origin III win.
"Morgan finished the season in such great form so I suppose he'd have a leg up. I haven't thought much about Australia," said Bennett, who reported no injuries from England's warm-up match in Perth on Friday.
Australian captain Cameron Smith said he would put his hand up to play all the six games the Kangaroos would play if they made the December 2 final in Brisbane.
Meninga sounded less convinced about the idea, but Smith won the conversation with the Kangaroos coach when he played all five games on last year's Four Nations tour.
Smith said he did not want to travel out of the country for a semi-final in New Zealand if England finish top of the pool also including Australia.
"We want to start well in the first game and win the World Cup on home soil. I don't have some good memories of the last one (2008, won by New Zealand)," he said.
Smith declined to comment on reports that his Storm clubmate Cooper Cronk had authorised his manager to speak to Sydney clubs about playing for one of them next year.
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