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Cleary can be difference if Blues hold nerve with selections and tactics for Origin 2

You should never knock a champion and the people who questioned Nathan Cleary after Origin I look foolish with his near-perfect performance for Penrith.

In the old days of the Rugby League Week player ratings, I would have given Cleary a 10 out of 10 for his effort in the 42-6 win over the Knights in Newcastle. 

I think the only thing he did wrong all game was miss one conversion from eight attempts.

There were plenty of critics out in force to knock him after Origin I but it was obvious he didn’t let it affect him. A lot of players don’t read all the stuff that’s said about them these days and you could tell he was not concerned about any of that with the focus he displayed in tearing Newcastle apart.

Backing up after Origin a few days later, it’s easier to get yourself physically right but mentally it can be very tough. But there was nothing wrong with how he performed and if he’s close to that in Origin II in Perth then the Maroons will have their hands full.

There’s also been a lot of experts calling for all sorts of changes to Brad Fittler’s team for game two in Perth next Sunday. I am sure he will block them out because he only needs to make a few changes here and there both at the selection table and when he’s drawing up his game plan.

Let’s not forget the Blues only lost by a converted try and they were actually better than the Maroons in a lot of areas across the course of the 80 minutes at Accor Stadium.

Nathan Cleary Origin

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

I’ll put it this way – if NSW had won by six points, how many changes would you make to the team? Not many, if any.

Freddie Fittler, who has been in and around Origin for a long time as a player and a coach, will understand that he doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel for NSW to get the better of the Maroons at Optus Stadium.

He won’t panic and will come up with a team that’s better for game two without making wholesale changes.

Queensland were the better team on the night but when you dig a bit deeper, NSW won time in possession 51%-49%, which is one of the key stats in any game. They were behind in completed sets, they were at 80%, the Maroons were at 86% so you can see they were excellent with their handling.

The Blues made more metres 2011-1863.and missed fewer tackles NSW 34, Queensland 43. 

Freddie made some comments after the game about speed of the ruck, that old chestnut about Queensland holding his players down but their play-the-ball speed was 3.4 seconds and the Maroons’ was 3.2 so there’s not much of a difference there.

Their back five won the battle for carries convincingly.

One area where I think they got it wrong was with the size and mobility of their pack. Everyone knows there are less stoppages for penalties and so forth in Origin and the ball in play during game one was 62 minutes and the NRL average game is 55 minutes.

On the flip side, I think Queensland by choosing a workaholic like Reuben Cotter at lock, who ended up playing the full 80 minutes, they got their balance right.

So I do think the Blues need to bring Jake Trbojevic back to give them a more mobile option in their middle forward rotation with Junior Paulo or Reagan Campbell-Gillard missing out.

Junior Paulo Origin

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Tariq Sims would be better served as a bench forward because he can play middle or edge so I’d go with Liam Martin on the right and Cameron Murray left as the starting second-rowers.

They need some attacking spark from their bench utility so I’d be looking to bring in Api Koroisau there, a bit like Queensland provided with Harry Grant and Ben Hunt.

Stephen Crichton or Kotoni Staggs should be at centre and whichever one misses out on the starting side should miss out on the 17. I’d go with Crichton because he’s got that club combination with Brian To’o out wide.

With the shortened preparation for this game of a week, which includes a day you lose to travel getting across to the West Coast, the teams will have two field sessions at the most to get their combinations right.

So there’s not enough time to shake things up too dramatically, which also suggests to me that for the most part, the players they thought were the best options for game one, will still be the ones they back to get the job done. 

Whoever they choose, they’ve got to do a better job at protecting Cleary. The kick pressure that Queensland employed put him off his game so they need to tighten that up. 

Complaining about the ruck speed will probably mean the game opens up a bit so Murray and Martin should be able to generate quick play-the-balls late in the set so Cleary can get on the front foot when he needs to put boot to ball.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 08: Xavier Coates of the Maroons receives attention after sustaining an injury during game one of the 2022 State of Origin series between the New South Wales Blues and the Queensland Maroons at Accor Stadium on June 08, 2022 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Xavier Coates. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

For the Maroons, their biggest challenge is replicating that same level of energy and effort given all the adulation they’ve received.

It’s easier said than done but they’ve got to block that out and forget about the fact that they’ve got home-ground advantage up their sleeve for game three at Suncorp Stadium.

Origin does become a fatiguing process over the course of the three games with a few club games thrown into the middle of all that.

Billy Slater has done it many times as a player and now he’s got to deal with now as a coach. They will be highly motivated to win the series but NSW have to win whereas Queensland would like to win. 

With Xavier Coates out with his ankle injury, I’d be bringing in Murray Taulagi from the Cowboys so he can carry over his club combination on the left edge with Valentine Holmes. 

Hagan’s Blues

1. James Tedesco

2. Daniel Tupou

3. Stephen Crichton

4. Jack Wighton

5. Brian To’o

6. Jarome Luai

7. Nathan Cleary

8. Payne Haas

9. Damien Cook

10. Reagan Campbell-Gillard

11. Cameron Murray

12. Liam Martin

13. Isaah Yeo


14. Api Koroisau

15. Jake Trbojevic

16. Tariq Sims

17. Ryan Matterson

Hagan’s Maroons

1. Kalyn Ponga

2. Selwyn Cobbo

3. Valentine Holmes

4. Dane Gagai

5. Murray Taulagi

6. Cameron Munster

7. Daly Cherry-Evans

8. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui

9. Ben Hunt

10. Josh Papalii

11. Kurt Capewell

12. Felise Kaufusi

13. Reuben Cotter


14. Harry Grant

15. Lindsay Collins

16. Patrick Carrigan

17. Jeremiah Nanai

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