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World Cup jerseys not the motivation for premiership halves

They form one of the strongest halves pairing in the NRL, winning a title and State of Origin series together last year, but Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai aren't thinking about taking on the world just yet.

Penrith's first squad media session back since the side won the competition was dominated by Cleary's fitness ahead of round one and several of the teammates' chances to pull on an Australian jersey at the end of the year.

Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga suggested earlier this week that Cleary wasn't the front-runner at this stage for the Kangaroos halfback spot with incumbent Daly Cherry-Evans still playing well enough to have his nose in front.

"It's probably fair enough," Cleary responded.

"Daly has been there before, he is a great player and from what it looks like he is a good leader too. It's a long way away, I would love the opportunity to play for Australia at some stage [but] it's not on my mind at the moment."

Cleary and Cherry-Evans have gone head-to-head at the State of Origin level in previous years and will coincidently clash in round one on March 10 if the Panthers halfback is cleared to return from a shoulder injury.

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On the halfback battle, Cleary said there was "no rivalry" between the pair and wouldn't have extra motivation this season with a World Cup jersey on the line.

"I try to get up for every game, I'm self-driven in that aspect, I just want to be better in whatever game I play," Cleary said.

"It doesn't matter who I am playing. It's just me trying to constantly better myself and improve. It's always good to try and test yourself against the best but it's not an individual game, it's not a 1v1 contest."

In Luai's case, he's hoping to have an answer for Meninga in the coming months as to whether he'll make himself available for the Kangaroos or pledge his allegiances to Samoa for the tournament in the UK.

"It’s a while away, I’m focused on round one and getting back to my best after a pretty big off-season as it gets closer, I’ll make a decision," Luai said.

"Just for me, on the international stage I think you should just do what you’re drawn most to, what you grew up knowing. I think it's a personal preference rather than just rules."

Luai added the vibe at the Panthers was a happier environment in contrast to 12 months ago when the livewire spent the summer dwelling over grand final defeat.

Penrith's third premiership has eased the pressure on several stars and coach Ivan Cleary somewhat, but Luai said chasing further success was a priority, especially with rival clubs looking to take down the defending champions.

"It was a bit similar when we made the grand final the previous year so it's the similar mindset," he said.

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"It's good we had that experience and been in that situation [of being hunted]. We're going to be up for it.

"[Ivan] has addressed it a bit and getting our feelings around backing up last year to this year.

"The boys have come in really motivated which is a great thing. We’re a young squad chasing success so it's been a great pre-season so far."

Luai will play his first game of the season against the Eels on Saturday but Cleary will remain on the sidelines before a decision on his round one status is made in a fortnight.

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