Cleary Origin rebound shows his growth

Scott Bailey
·2-min read

Nathan Cleary admits his State of Origin rebound may not have been possible as recently as a year ago as he sets his sights on a NSW three-peat.

Cleary can join elite company at Suncorp Stadium next week, aiming to become just the second Blues halfback behind Ricky Stuart to win three series straight.

But the path hasn't been easy.

It was only days ago the likes of Andrew Johns were calling for him to be sacked, after the toughest run for any player coming into an Origin series.

In the 16 days before Wednesday night, Cleary narrowly missed out on a maiden Dally M, blamed himself for Penrith's grand-final defeat and faced heavy scrutiny in the Blues' series-opening loss.

All that for a man still only aged 22.

"I think it definitely would have been a lot harder (to rebound last year)," Cleary said.

"I was probably buying into the outside noise too much ... I was listening to other people's opinions.

"I think it's a natural reaction to have that, but it's just listening to the people who matter and what they want from you and what they want for the team.

"At the end of the day I always want to put the team first. That was the mentality we had."

By fulltime on Wednesday night, Johns was hailing Cleary's kicking game in the 34-10 win at ANZ Stadium as the best he'd seen from a Blues half.

His early kicks for a charging Josh Addo-Carr were not pre-planned according to Cleary, but they were match-defining as they forced two drop outs and a scrum.

He also broke the line once before a try and put two teammates through holes to cross, silencing those wanting to point out he was yet to earn an attacking stat in Origin.

But Cleary said it was never about proving the critics wrong, and nor did he have any issue with Johns' comments.

"At the end of the day he's very heavily invested in NSW and he always wants the best for the team," Cleary said.

"(Other critics) can keeping talking all they want.

"Honestly I'm in a position where I don't even really count for it anymore. I just appreciate those who are in my corner."

But it still has been a lesson in personal development, with Cleary knowing the job is not done.

"You never like to be not playing well, you never like losing," Cleary said.

"It's just something you have to deal with.

"What has happened so far in my career has put me in a good place to deal with it. This week I was just in a good place.

"But I still have another job to do next Wednesday night. We all know that."