Before the campaign for Nathan Cleary’s 2018 Origin selection can begin, take a moment to appreciate how far the 20-year-old has come.
Not selected for the NSW Under-16s or Under-18s as he progressed through the NSWRL Pathways program, the up-and-coming halfback won the SG Ball – and a Holden Cup, Intrust Super Premiership NSW and NRL debut followed within a year. Now, less than three years after taking out the state’s under-18s title, Cleary has been named in the Emerging Blues squad, officially putting him in the frame for an Origin debut.
“It’s all happened pretty quickly, it’s kind of been a bit of a whirlwind,” Cleary tells NSWRL.com.au. “I’m still pinching myself that I’m even playing in the NRL and to be mentioned in Origin it’s pretty crazy.
“It’s a great honour to kind of be around the people I am today and it’s something I dreamt of growing up.”
Having taken the reins at the Panthers at NRL level, it didn’t take long for Cleary to be touted as a future NSW representative – and he’s long had the support of new coach Brad Fittler.
“He's putting pressure on everyone,” Fittler said upon taking up the role in November. “The way he's composed under pressure, his football is designed for State of Origin.”
The path to the Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues isn’t so straightforward for the rookie no.7, however, who maintains there’s still some work to be done.
“I definitely haven’t earned that yet, so hopefully with a big start to the year I can make a case for it,” Cleary says. “I’m probably not 100% at the moment but we’ll see how the start of the season goes – and if I’m playing well out at Penrith then you never know what can happen.”
Now, named alongside fellow Origin hopefuls for the Emerging Blues program at ANZ Stadium, Cleary will learn from Immortal and childhood hero Andrew Johns.
“Joey’s been my idol since I was a little kid and I always looked up to him, so to be working alongside him today is unbelievable and a dream come true.
“I’m just going with the flow today. Hopefully I can learn a few things here and there and just learn about what Origin is about and take that back to club footy.”