The Queensland Maroons may have discovered the blueprints to silence Penrith Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary.
NSW Blues halfback Nathan Cleary has taken the blame for Wednesday’s painful loss to Queensland in the State of Origin series opener, calling the six-point defeat a much-needed “kick-up the backside”.
The Maroons took a 1-0 series lead after a blitz in the second half, Billy sent Slater’s men to a thrilling 16-10 win at the Accor Stadium in Sydney Olympic Park.
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Despite being one of the sport’s biggest stars, Cleary was completely outclassed by Queensland halves Cameron Munster and Daly Cherry-Evans in Game I, with the Panthers playmaker pooling his more forgettable Origin achievements to date.
The Maroons’ hasty defenses choked Cleary and his Blues team-mates, forcing New South Wales to unusually sloppy ends of sets.
But the talented 24-year-old has accepted responsibility for Wednesday’s defeat, confessing that he “wasn’t good enough” in the blockbuster clash.
“Every time the team loses, I’ll take that personally and I definitely didn’t play well,” he said.
“It’s a lesson. I can’t change it now, but I can change what I do leading up to the next Origin or the next Club game.
“In Origin you have to grab your moments. I thought Cam and Daly were doing really well, so I have to do what they did.
“I thought all their backbones were playing well. They were all around the ball and their attackers also laid a good platform.
“It was a tough game – that’s what Origin is all about – and they probably captured their moments a little better than we did.
“That’s as good for me as it is for anyone else.
“My performance can uplift others around me, and I wasn’t good enough.
“I didn’t play well enough and that has consequences for the result. It’s up to me to get better and when I’m better, so will the rest of the team.
“You never really worked out the game. You think you’re doing well and then a game like this happens. Sometimes it’s not a big deal.
“It’s a reality check that I need to get better, but win or lose, I’ll keep trying to get better and this time is no different.
“I’ll review the game and dig deeper into what I need to do. I can’t be too focused on the results, I need to be focused and driven and sometimes it’s good to have a little push that I can need to get better.”
Queensland punished Cleary with military precision – as revealed by Fox Sports, no NRL player has been “contacted” during kick-pressure attempts as often this year as Cleary on Wednesday, with Maroons players getting his hands on him seven times .
Previously, the most times he’d been “contacted” before in a game was four.
Speaking of SEN 1170’s The Captain’s RunQueensland assistant coach Cameron Smith revealed that the Maroons had discussed targeting Cleary at halftime.
“He’s a great kicker under pressure because he works hard on that part of his game,” said Smith.
“There was good kick pressure in the first half (from Queensland). In the second half, Queensland came to him when he kicked the ball.
“Which meant the back three for Queensland, especially Kalyn Ponga, were able to get the ball into a really good fielding position. Queensland could go straight from defense to attack. We had to (to work on Cleary).”
Meanwhile, former New South Wales coach Phil Gould criticized the Blues for being too “predictable” in Game I, claiming the squad’s overly structured attacking play hampered Cleary.
“I think NSW came up with exactly what Queensland expected,” he told Wide World of Sports’ Six tackles with Gus podcasting.
“When you play against the best in this environment and you get these one-off opportunities, you have to come up with something more than good structure and good form and things like that.
Cleary plays a predictable role in his football so they were able to put some pressure on him, realizing he’s kicked them dead before in other Origins.
Cleary was more visible in what he did and where he got the ball and how he got the ball was predictable and that’s where Queensland could take him out.
“I just thought NSW was coming at them with more of a club strategy, a club style of football. The longer the game went on, you could see the Queensland defense getting more confident in what they were doing.”
Queensland will have the chance to close out the series during Game II in Perth on Sunday, June 26.
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