Mitchell Moses praise prompts Nathan Cleary Origin conundrum

Nathan Cleary might have plenty of opposition for the No.7 jersey next year.

Nathan Cleary after a loss and Mitchell Moses during the anthem.
Nathan Cleary (pictured left) could be up for a battle to retain his No.7 jersey next year in Origin after Mitchell Moses' (pictured right) performance. (Getty Images)

New South Wales fans have questioned if Nathan Cleary is a certainty to walk back into the line-up next year after Mitchell Moses had his best game in the sky blue jersey on Wednesday night. Moses was instrumental, alongside Cody Walker, in helping the Blues play an upbeat tempo to win Game III against the Maroons.

Despite Billy Slater's men wrapping up the series, Brad Fittler's new-look team gave Blues fans a glimpse of the future. While Fittler might not be around next year, a number of players in Game III put their hand up to make the 2024 Blues coach's job even harder.

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Walker won player-of-the-match, but Moses was also decisive in the halfback jersey. The Parramatta halfback was quick off his line in defence and kicked with aplomb.

His direct running with the ball also had the Maroons guessing, which added to the Blues' new-look backline. And with the Blues putting in one of their best games in recent years, many fans were left questioning whether Cleary had a 'mortgage' on the jersey.

Cleary has been the NRL's best halfback for at least two years. He has been a certainty for Laurie Daley and Fittler in previous series' at No.7. However, he hasn't always replicated his Panthers' form in the Origin arena.

Michael Ennis questions No.7 race with Nathan Cleary

An injury ahead of Game II to Cleary saw Moses step in to the halfback role. While his Game II was good, his Game III performance was great. And former Blues No.9 Michael Ennis couldn't see how the Eels player could be left out going forward.

“I thought he showed tonight that he is a State of Origin player. I thought he was great. And that’s not just with the ball in hand, defensively out on that right edge I thought he was great," Ennis said on Fox Sports.

Mitchell Moses runs the ball.
Mitchell Moses (pictured) was decisive for the Blues in Game III of Origin. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

When Yvonne Sampson suggested Cleary would most likely slot straight back in next year to the No.7 role, Ennis questioned the idea. “That’s great but we have Ben Hunt and Daly Cherry-Evans doing the same thing for Queensland where they both star as halfbacks on the weekend. And how important is it to have quality depth like that,” he said.

“Queensland have spoken about it before, New South Wales speak about it as well that you don’t have a mortgage on your jersey, you have to earn it. It’s a representative jersey and Mitch has shown he is in for the fight.

“Nathan is world class, he’s one of the best halfbacks I’ve seen play but he’s got someone breathing down his neck now. He’s got competition." Fans also weighed-in after some hope for the Blues amid a dismal series.

Cleary is expected to return for the Panthers in the next week or two as the reigning champions look to push for another minor premiership.

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