He was man-of-the-match in a commanding NSW win in Origin Game II but Nathan Cleary was left sweating over his availability for next week's decider at Suncorp Stadium.
Cleary was instrumental in the Blues' 34-10 win in Sydney on Wednesday night, with his starring role silencing his critics from the Game I defeat.
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However, the NSW halfback faced a nervous wait over a first half tackle on Maroons winger Xavier Coates, that could have potentially seen him rubbed out of Game III.
Cleary was chasing down a Cody Walker kick when Coates picked up the ball in the 13th minute.
The 22-year-old tried to put a big hit on the Maroons winger but appeared to hit Coates with a shoulder charge.
The footage painted a troublesome picture for Cleary, who didn't look to have made any attempt to wrap his arms around the Maroons player, in what would constitute a legal tackle.
Referee Gerard Sutton didn't make anything of the incident at the time and according to Nine’s Danny Weidler, the NSW halfback has been cleared of any wrongdoing and will be free to play in Game III.
— Danny Weidler (@Danny_Weidler) November 11, 2020
If Cleary was found guilty of a grade one shoulder charge that carries a penalty of 200 points, then even an early guilty plea wouldn’t have saved him from Origin III suspension.
The incident certainly divided the rugby league world, with fans debating whether or not the incident should have been punished.
LATEST: NSW halfback Nathan Cleary could be rubbed out of Origin 3 after a shoulder charge on Xavier Coates. Match review committee will review it this morning 😰
STORY: https://t.co/1h7sb64sJ0 pic.twitter.com/5rvjfXr31f
— Michael Chammas (@MichaelChammas) November 11, 2020
Come on mate . He guts rubbed out for this then the game has lost the plot !
— Robby Bitola (@RobKeb1969) November 11, 2020
It was a shoulder charge. Soft, yes. But a shoulder charge nonetheless. He should be rubbed out but they won’t.
— Vox Populi (@JoeAver64509111) November 11, 2020
No way! That’s not a shoulder charge
— Sharon Good 🐶🏉💙🤍 (@SharonEGood) November 11, 2020
If they're consistent he should be charged and banned
— Didge RED V 🇱🇧 (@DidgeRoger) November 11, 2020
He's gone in to make a tackle and got bumped off, if he's suspended it's a complete joke
— David (@david19792010) November 11, 2020
He’s goooooonnnnne @ChloeAmandaB ! QLD might have a chance...
— H3LLB0W©️ (@iDionHutcheson) November 11, 2020
"I thought it was a good hit,” Fox League’s Yvonne Sampson said on Sky Sports Big Sports Breakfast.
"They’ll have to go back and have a look. Gerard Sutton didn’t make any issue of it at the time so I can’t imagine the match review committee will make much of an issue of it."
NSW and Balmain great Benny Elias also thought there was very little for Cleary to be worried about.
“I did not think there was much in it at all,” he said on Fox Sports News.
“It would be a sad state of affairs [if he was charged]. There was very, very little in it.”
Cleary cleared to play in Origin decider
Cleary’s escape from suspension is a huge boost for a NSW side hoping to claim a third straight Origin series win in Queensland heartland next Wednesday night.
Blues legend Andrew Johns labelled Cleary’s kicking game in Sydney as the best he's ever seen from a NSW half.
Cleary was superb in NSW’s 24-point flogging of Queensland, regularly kicking early and deep while utilising the speed of Josh Addo-Carr.
He finished with two forced dropouts and a 40-20, as the Penrith half was happy to kick early in the count to turn Queensland around.
It paid off, with a ridiculous 77 per cent of the ball being played in Queensland's half, while the Blues also enjoyed 65 per cent of possession.
And it couldn't have come at a better time for the 22-year-old man of the match.
Just a week ago, Johns was among those calling for him to be sacked, after a lacklustre performance in the Blues' loss in Adelaide.
But after the series-saving win in Sydney set up a decider at Suncorp Stadium next week, NSW's greatest-ever half was among those to admit Cleary had his critics eating their words.
"Under pressure this week, would have felt the pressure, but stood up and answered all his critics," Johns told Nine.
"I thought his kicking game was the best I've seen from a NSW half in all my time watching footy.
"The early kicks, the courage to kick early and back himself and not only once or twice, but three or four times, he did it.
"He just stood up and he made a lot of people eat their words and really proud of the way he played tonight."
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