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For & Against: Has Cleary overtaken DCE for Roos No.7

The coveted Kangaroos No.7 jersey has been worn by a cavalcade of champions through the years, from Peter Sterling to Allan Langer to Ricky Stuart and the legendary Tommy Raudonikis.

In more recent times, Queensland heroes Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk and Daly Cherry-Evans have been handed the honour of steering the green and golds around the paddock.

At the end of 2019, Australia played Tests against New Zealand and Tonga and it was DCE calling the shots, but much has changed since then, not least the irresistible rise of Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary, who has led his team to 27 wins in their past 28 matches.

Cleary and Cherry-Evans will square off in this year's Origin series and the victor will go a long way towards securing the Kangaroos job for the World Cup in October.

Nathan Cleary has overtaken DCE for Roos No.7

For - Martin Lenehan (NRL.com senior reporter)

When it comes to hot streaks, they don't come any hotter than the peerless Panther Nathan Cleary.

The 23-year-old is a runaway leader in the Dally M Medal with a whopping 19 votes after 10 rounds and his stats make for extraordinary reading ... 112 points, 10 try assists, eight line break assists and five tries of his own for good measure.

His team is 10-0 to start the year, they average 30 points per game, and Cleary is the brains of the operation. The puppet master. The conductor. The benchmark for playmakers in the NRL.

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Cleary plays the game at breakneck pace but never loses his control or composure.

His superior vision and skill allows him to play up-tempo when opportunities arise and he is equally adept at dialling it down a notch when his team has been under pressure and needs a breather.

Come June 9 at the MCG, Cleary will steer Brad Fittler's Blues around the park in a mouth-watering head-to-head with Daly Cherry-Evans, the man who led Queensland to an upset Origin series win in 2020 and has been in sensational form himself for the rampant Sea Eagles outfit.

Apart from State of Origin glory, the ultimate prize for the game's premier playmakers is the Australian No.7 jersey for this year's World Cup in England.

DCE has played 15 Tests for his country, the most recent of which was a 16-12 loss to a Jason Taumalolo-inspired Tonga Invitational side in Auckland at the end of 2019.

The COVID-19 pandemic put paid to any international footy in 2020 so DCE has the inside running as the incumbent in Mal Meninga's team but he faces an almighty challenge from Cleary.

Make no mistake, Cherry-Evans has been a damn fine player for a decade, and he has Manly humming at the moment.

But Cleary is the future and the future starts now.

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Against - Paul Zalunardo (NRL.com senior reporter)

There’s an old saying that “If you want to be the champ, you’ve got to beat the champ”. 

That’s the task facing Nathan Cleary before he should be given the famous Kangaroos No.7 jersey. 

Yes, Cleary has scored wins over Australia incumbent Daly Cherry-Evans in club football, but DCE’s performances as Maroons captain in last year’s Origin series means he deserves the inside running. 

On that stage, the biggest there is in the game in Australia, DCE did all one possibly could to lead Queensland to one of the greatest upsets in the four decades the concept has been around for. 

His play was exemplary, and he also offered a level of leadership and inspiration that made those around him better. 

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He and fellow half Cameron Munster proved the difference between the two teams over the three games. 

That’s why the Test No.7 jersey should still be Cherry-Evans’ to lose. 

Cleary may lead the NRL in a series of key stats (points scored, goals kicked, kick metres and total kicks) over the opening 10 rounds of the Telstra Premiership, but DCE has still meant a lot to the Sea Eagles, especially since Tom Trbojevic returned. 

Cleary has clearly been more consistent, but with the finely tuned machine he has had around him, it’d be hard not to look good every week. 

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If the pair were playing for the opposite clubs, it is a tough ask to get someone to say Cleary would have fared much better than DCE did in a side that looked anything but top-eight contenders in the early weeks. 

There appears little standing in the way of Cleary playing for his country for an extended period, but unless the Blues can win the 2021 Origin series and he outperforms the Manly No.7, Cherry-Eavns’ name should appear on the team sheet when an Australian team is next picked. 

Roo beauty: DCE v Cleary

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The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARL Commission, NRL clubs or state associations.