Fittler confident Cleary will handle occasion
NSW coach Brad Fittler said the time has come for Holden State of Origin rookie Nathan Cleary to tick off another experience – one that will viewed by 80,000 fans at the MCG and millions more on television.
The 20-year-old Panthers halfback has enjoyed a brilliant start to life in the NRL, but the prospect of facing Queensland at Origin level provides his next test.
"He's risen to every challenge so far," Fittler said of Cleary at the MCG on Monday.
"He had his first injury, and he obviously works hard at his injuries as he's been the best player on the field pretty much both times [since his return].
"He's only 20 years old - let's not call him a great player just yet. I'm just really keen [for him] to get out there and deal with 80,000 people on a ground he's never played on. That's his next experience."
Blues captain Boyd Cordner echoed the sentiments of his coach.
"He shows all the qualities to be a great Origin player, like Cooper [Cronk], Johnathan Thurston, Mitchell Pearce," he said.
"He's tough; he's a competitor. He's willing to learn. He knew the game plan hands down after day one, and is excited and ready to go."
James Maloney is expected to provide a calming influence at five-eighth for an inexperienced Blues team - exactly the balance Fittler wants in a squad full of rookies.
"There was a lot of talk about his defence - but you watch Jimmy and his ability not to get flustered by anything that happens in a game," Fittler said.
"To be able to have that on your team is very rare. You need someone like that - who has a bit of control."
Fittler, himself a rookie on the Origin coaching stage, said early-game execution of his side needed to be spot on before they even started thinking of taking a 1-0 series lead.
"There are no second chances, for us. We're all pretty new - the coaches, and the players - but we've just got to nail it,'' he said.
"I always knew from the start it would be a very different footy team. I just feel if this team can have a bit of luck and things work out, then it could be a real drive forward for NSW as well."
Witness Australia's greatest sporting rivalry when Origin comes to the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Wednesday, June 6. Bronze tickets available from $49 HERE!