Nathan Cleary answered his critics with a commanding performance in the Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues' 44-12 win over Queensland at Perth’s Optus Stadium to force the 2022 Ampol State of Origin series into a decider next month.
In a ‘Player of the Match’ tip-sheet Cleary scored twice - his first Origin tries in his 12th match - had two try assists, didn’t miss any of his eight shots at goal, and generally had a hand in everything NSW did well on the night.
“We knew that from within we needed to be better. There were just a few simple things we needed to change,” Cleary said.
“It was a great week with everyone bonding really well,” he said of the seven changes that coach Brad Fittler made from Game One.
After admitting he didn’t have his best game in the 16-10 loss on 8 June in Sydney, Cleary’s presence in Game Two was phenomenal – a personal points tally of 24 along with a superb kicking game in attack.
He 15 kicks for 444 metres was one of the reasons Queensland remained scoreless in the second half.
“He had a lot of criticism after the first game but he showed what a champion player he is,” said Blues skipper James Tedesco.
“He comes out in game two and puts on a clinic with a lot of pressure on him.
“He’s one hell of a player,” Tedesco said of his halfback.
The back three of Tedesco, Brian To’o and Daniel Tupou all ran over 200 metres each as the Blues ran 800 metres more than the Maroons, made six line-breaks to two, and busted out of 60 tackles compared with Queensland’s 25.
Other highlights for the Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues included Bulldogs five-eighth Matt Burton scoring a try on debut, when he successfully chased a Cleary grubber into the in-goal.
And Sydney Roosters back rower Angus Crichton scored his maiden Origin try in his 10th game.
He was overlooked for Game One but was one of the changes Fittler made to his Game Two line-up.
Perth continues to be a happy hunting ground for the Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues.
They came to Optus Stadium in 2019 after losing Game One but went home victorious 38-6.
The seven tries to two thumping in 2022 sets up the Blues nicely for Game Three at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium on 13 July.
NSW landed some attacking punches early to set the scene.
Cleary charged down a Cameron Munster kick, Tedesco had a gallop upfield, and To’o pushed Selwyn Cobbo into touch near the corner post.
A ball strip by Queensland gave the NSW their first points with Cleary kickING the penalty in the 11th minute.