Nathan Cleary Origin 'doubt' emerges after Phil Gould Blues reveal

The issue around Nathan Cleary appears to be more serious than the Blues are letting on.

Pictured left to right, Bulldogs NRL supremo Phil Gould and NSW Origin halfback Nathan Cleary.
Bulldogs supremo Phil Gould has suggested the tooth infection for NSW Origin halfback Nathan Cleary is more serious than the Blues are letting on. Pic: Getty

The mystery surrounding Nathan Cleary has deepened, with Bulldogs supremo Phil Gould contradicting comments from NSW coach Brad Fittler that the Blues halfback is a near certainty to feature in Wednesday night's State of Origin opener in Adelaide. The Blues were dealt a massive blow on Monday when star centre Latrell Mitchell was ruled out of Game I with a calf injury.

The news seemed to go from bad to worse for NSW when it emerged later that day that Cleary was battling an issue with an infected tooth. Fittler addressed the reports around his star half on Monday, and insisted that Penrith's two-time premiership winner would be fine to take his place on Wednesday night.

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"He's had it (the tooth issue) for months, so there's no problem and he'll play and there was never a problem that meant he wasn't going to play," Fittler told reporters. The coach was further pressed on the issue around Cleary on Monday, with Fittler in a joking mood about the state of his halfback,

“Months, he is out for months so he’s not a problem, he will play and there was never a problem that he wasn’t going to play,” Fittler joked. While the Blues coach was clearly in a relaxed mood when discussing Cleary with reporters, Gould suggested the reality was that the problem was more serious than the couch was letting on.

The Bulldogs supremo told Nine's 100% Footy on Monday night that Canterbury had to release Matt Burton to join the NSW squad as their 19th man, following the news around Cleary and the withdrawal of Mitchell. The Bulldogs' GM of football insisted there was a "sense of urgency" to get Burton into Blues camp in Adelaide, suggesting there might be more to Cleary's problem than meets the eye.

“If it is infection and the infection runs through his system it can be quite serious, but the extent I don’t know,” Gould said. “I spoke to Brad Fittler twice today because we had to arrange for Matt Burton to get down there quite quickly, and there was a sense of urgency.

“I said ‘why is it so urgent we get him on that flight and not the next one?’ He said ‘look, Nathan is in some doubt and I’d like him to have a run with Nicho and Burto and Jarome (Luai) in the same side’, that’s where they were with that.” Gould's co-host Paul Gallen added: “There’s obviously something there,” in reference to the situation surrounding Cleary.

Stephen Crichton into NSW starting side

The Penrith halfback won the 2021 premiership while playing with a labral tear in his shoulder through the back half of the season, and hence knows about playing through pain in big games. While Blues officials remain confident Cleary will be right to take his place against the Maroons, the withdrawal of Mitchell has thrust Stephen Crichton into the starting side to partner Tom Trbojevic in the centres.

It's understood Crichton's inclusion will see the Maroons make a slight tweak to their backline, with centres Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow and Val Holmes to swap sides in a move that pits the 'Hammer' against Manly superstar, Trbojevic. Tabuai-Fidow was initially slated to be playing on the other side, entrusted with the duty of trying to counter Blues superstar, Mitchell.

Seen here, NRL star Stephen Crichton in NSW Blues Origin camp.
Stephen Crichton's inclusion for the Blues is set to spark a reshuffle in the Maroons' backline for State of Origin Game I. Pic: Getty

The Courier Mail's Pete Badel revealed the Maroons tweaks on NRL 360, while confirming that Ben Hunt will start in the hooking role for Queensland, with Harry Grant coming off the bench. “A few positional changes, confirmation that Hamiso will start on the left edge for Queensland and that moves Valentine Holmes over the right side,” Pete Badel said on NRL 360.

“Hammer will mark up against Tommy Turbo and Val Holmes will mark up against Stephen Crichton. In the hooking role, Ben Hunt will start, there was some conjecture about Harry Grant potentially starting but that’s not the case.”

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