Origin spotlight on halfbacks in Game II

Scott Bailey and Ed Jackson
·3-min read

It could be a defining moment in at least one State of Origin halfback's representative career.

But whether it is Nathan Cleary, Daly Cherry-Evans or both, remains to be seen in Game II on Wednesday night.

No one has had more written about them in the past week than Cleary.

The form halfback of the 2020 NRL season, the Penrith No.7's ability to stand up in big games has been questioned after NSW's series-opening 18-14 loss in Adelaide.

Critics point to the fact he is yet to set up a try or linebreak in his first six Origin games, a drought no other NSW half has endured.

But his supporters are willing to point out that he has helped the Blues win the past two series, with his game management usually at the fore.

By Cleary's own admission that slipped last week, and while Cody Walker came in for Luke Keary, Origin greats such as Andrew Johns have also called for Cleary's head.

"Joey is not the captain or coach, we pick players for the reason to win big games," NSW coach Brad Fittler said.

"Over the past couple of years they have done a fairly good job.

"Sometimes we haven't played as good as we'd like, and I think individuals would say the same.

"But I think in general he has done a pretty good job."

The Blues must win on Wednesday night to keep their hopes of a three-peat alive, but Fittler insisted there was not added pressure on Cleary for this to be a turning point.

"I think he has been performing," Fittler said.

"I'm not sure what everyone is reading into. I think our halves in general were a little disappointing (in Adelaide).

"But in the second half when we had no wind we were just bringing it off our line.

"The disappointment was the first half. I'm not that disappointed with him, I know a lot of people seem to be but I am just seeing a different story."

Meanwhile in the Maroons corner, Cherry-Evans enters ANZ Stadium with the chance to win his first State of Origin series as Queensland's chief half.

Widely regarded as the game's best half, Cherry-Evans is yet to take Queensland to the promised land as the state's starting No.7.

After beginning his Origin life as a bench player, he started in crucial losses in 2014 and 2015 as Queensland's balance was thrown with Cooper Cronk out.

He only got his recall in Game III of 2018, and while he was the Maroons' best in victory it was too late to save their series.

It earned him the captaincy last year, and the No.7 jersey for the next Origin chapter.

If Queensland win on Wednesday and wrap up the most unlikely of series wins, this will be Cherry-Evans' victory.

He was man of the match in Game I, and is now the favourite to be named player of the series and win the Wally Lewis Medal.

The next eight days now shape as the biggest of his representative career so far.

"I like working with him," coach Wayne Bennett said.

"He was very good today with the boys, he's getting more confident with the players."