After the success Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues halfback Nathan Cleary has enjoyed with Penrith this year, he admits the “reality check” came hard and fast with the 16-10 loss to Queensland in the opening Ampol State of Origin game.
Cleary, a premiership-winner and co-captain at the Panthers where he has unleashed nine try assists in nine NRL games this year, said his club form didn’t translate to the Origin arena on Wednesday night.
“It proves you’ve never fully got things worked out,” Cleary said.
“You think you’re going alright then something like this happens.
“It’s not a bad thing – it’s a reality check, a kick up the backside, and I need to get better.”
While Cleary bemoaned his performance, he didn’t slide that much when taking the statistics into account.
He averages 490 metres in kicks every NRL game and had 20 for 592 metres against Queensland.
The Blues enjoyed more run metres (2,011m to 1,863m); had great post-contact metres (633m to 610m); more tackle-breaks (43 to 34) and slightly more possession (51% to 49%), while completing their sets at 80%. Line-breaks were even at five each.
Still Cleary acknowledged his opposition halves in Daly Cherry-Evans and Cameron Munster were more creative and more damaging.
“We need a bit more ruck speed; it’s Origin - you’ve got to take those moments and I thought Cam and Daly did really well tonight,” Cleary said.
“I take it very hard…. didn’t play well enough and that affects the result.
“It’s up to me to play better.
“You have to take (the responsibility) especially as a halfback and leader of the team.
“My performance can lift others around me, and I wasn’t good enough.
“It’s a big lesson. I can’t change it now, but I can change it in the next couple of games.”
Like Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues coach Brad Fittler, Cleary said the attacking finesse of Latrell Mitchell and Tom Trbojevic – both out injured – would have been nice to have.
“But I thought Jack Wighton was enormous for us tonight,” he said.
“As much as you’d like to have Tommy and Latrell out there, we don’t, and I thought our centres (Wighton and Kotoni Staggs) did well.
“It’s something we have to adapt to and get better.
“It was a tough game – it’s what Origin is about – and I thought they took their moments better than we did.”
Cleary was pleased with the amount of fight the Blues mustered in the final 15-to-20 minutes as they searched for the equalising try.
“We found energy at the end so I’m pretty proud to be part of a team that’s swinging right to the end,” he said.
“We’ve just got to do it earlier – do it as a team and stay connected.
“I’ve got to drive that too. We’ve got to focus now on what’s coming up – we’ve got to drive that belief within the group.
“At the end of the day you have to win two (games) anyway. It’s still live (series).”
Game Two will be held in Perth’s Optus Stadium on Sunday 26 June.