Cleary could handle Origin: Griffin

Laine Clark

A NSW State of Origin call-up will not faze Nathan Cleary after coming back from a serious knee injury, Penrith coach Anthony Griffin says.

But the Panthers mentor did not sound convinced Cleary would win his race against time to be picked to make his Origin debut in the June 6 series opener in Melbourne.

Griffin said the 20-year-old remained on track to make an early return from the initial 10-week diagnosis after going down in their round three loss to Canterbury.

Cleary was initially ruled out until round 13 - the week after NSW go into camp for Origin I.

Cleary had hoped to return in their round 11 clash against Wests Tigers, giving him a couple of games to impress Blues selectors before their Origin team is picked.

Blues selectors have gone back to square one in their search for who will partner five-eighth James Maloney after standout halfback candidate Mitchell Pearce of Newcastle suffered a four-month pectoral injury last round.

Pressure is now building on Cleary to return and answer a NSW SOS at No.7.

Asked if it would be unfair to throw Cleary into NSW duty after a long sideline stint, Griffin said: "He's a level headed kid ... I think he handles whatever comes his way - he has so far during his career."

Cleary has been sidelined since late March with a grade three medial ligament tear.

Panthers general manager of football Phil Gould has not ruled out Cleary returning in six weeks from his injury - next week's round nine.

And ex-Blues skipper Paul Gallen has already backed Cleary to handle stepping up to Origin football after a long injury lay-off.

But Griffin was adamant Cleary would not cut corners and fast track his recovery in a bid to earn an Origin debut in Melbourne, saying the playmaker was at least another month away from a return.

"What NSW do and what NSW don't do, we have no control over that," he said.

"I don't think that expectation will have any influence on the way he is thinking about his rehab - he is very meticulous in everything he does.

"He's still probably a month, six weeks away."