SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 13: Paul Gallen of the Blues thanks the crowd after winning game three of the State Of Origin series between the New South Wales Blues and the Queensland Maroons at ANZ Stadium on July 13, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

It’s been a heated topic since the conclusion of the 2022 State of Origin series – who deserves to be Kangaroos halfback for the upcoming Rugby League World Cup?

Though we covered it last week on Zero Tackle, the debate has raged on in public.

Mal Meninga has all but confirmed both Daly Cherry-Evans and Nathan Cleary will be in his squad for the end-of-season tournament in England but has not indicated his preference for the starting halfback role.

Former NSW and Penrith coach and current head of football and the Canterbury Bulldogs, Phil Gould has recently weighed in, suggesting that despite the debate only one candidate will be a clear front-runner at the end of the season.

“I think by the end of the year Cleary will have proven that he deserves to be the halfback, but you need Cherry-Evans in the squad as well,” Gould claimed on Channel 9’s 100% Footy.

“Cherry-Evans has been wonderful for the Sea Eagles and Queensland. He’s had ups and downs, but he’s a really mature leadership player, and (the Kangaroos) are going to need someone like that in the World Cup.”

“Cleary hasn’t played in that environment, in these types of games. He hasn’t played Test football.”

While Cleary was rested for the Panthers’ win over Wests Tigers following the Origin decider, Cherry-Evans backed up for Manly, guiding them to a dominant victory against Newcastle as they fight to shore up their grip on eighth place.

Just three days after guiding the Maroons to victory, DCE was again instrumental, finishing the game with three try assists and five tackle-breaks of his own – as well as two offloads and 16 tackles – in a remarkable display.

While Gould’s rationale for suggesting Cleary to start at the World Cup was well-reasoned, fellow 100% Footy panellist and former NSW Blues captain Paul Gallen was far more pragmatic in his analysis.

“I hate to admit it, but I think (the halfback) is going to be DCE,” Gallen said.

“I think he deserves it. There’s a lot of footy to play between now and then but if we regard Origin as a trial game, which it used to be, the fact Queensland won and DCE played so well in Games 1 and 3 – the decider, in particular, he probably deserves it – as much as it pains me to say.”

While he is yet to name his squad for the World Cup, coach Mal Meninga labelled Cherry-Evans “the one to beat” for the role in an interview with The Australian back in February 2022.