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First blood: Cleary into Origin folklore with brave effort

Nathan Cleary etched his name into Origin folklore bravely playing with a deep facial laceration to lead NSW to a 50-6 victory over Queensland in Origin I  in Townsville.

Cleary had come into the opener with question marks over his ability to perform in big games after losing last year's series and the NRL grand final, but the answer he emphatically delivered was all about his toughness.

The Blues halfback was the victim of friendly fire when he headbutted Tom Trbojevic's elbow as he attempted to tackle rampaging Queensland second-rower David Fifita in the 21st minute.

Like Sam Burgess in the 2014 NRL grand final, Cleary pushed through the pain barrier and a constant stream of blood pouring down his right cheek.

Unlike Burgess, it appears Cleary has escaped without a fracture. He has been cleared of any structural damage and will travel with the NSW team back to Sydney on Thursday morning.

Maroons v Blues

The star halfback is still expected to sit out Penrith's clash with the Sharks on Friday night.

By the time referee Gerard Sutton ordered Cleary from the field under the blood rule in the 36th minute, the writing was on the wall that the Blues were headed towards victory and the halfback's composure had helped build the foundation.

Cleary returned to the field in the second half after receiving stitches at half-time and while it was Latrell Mitchell and Tom Trbojevic who stole the headlines, the half had his own moments of classy touches.

Cleary set up Trbojevic's third try in the 69th minute with a line break inside his own half to put NSW ahead of their previous greatest victory margin in a historic night for the Blues.

Fittler singles out Mitchell's best moments

By the end of the night his swollen cheek looked worse for wear but he still finished the game with one try assist and seven conversions in a brave performance.

As the Blues soaked up their biggest win in Origin history the playmaker said he did not believe he had suffered a fracture but would find out for sure after he has it checked on Thursday.

The Panthers are due to play Cronulla at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium on Friday night but Cleary is unlikely to play even if scans clear him of serious injury given the short turnaround.

Cleary is not the only injury concern out of a brutal Origin with Maroons prop Christian Welch failing a HIA after just 13 minutes after a head clash when trying to tackle Brian To'o.

Welch had been instrumental in suffocating Cleary with his pressure in both last year's Origin series and the grand final.

Tommy Turbo finds space on the edge for the first try

In fact the only win Cleary savoured from those four clutch games last year was the second Origin when Welch was ruled out prior to the game because of a HIA in the series opener and the short turnaround between games.

Maroons prop Jai Arrow assumed the chief harasser role with Welch off and a clash with Cleary sparked the first of many push and shove moments in the game when the Queensland forward took exception to Cleary kicking away from a late tackle.

 

Origin II in Brisbane is sold out but tickets are still on sale for game three at Stadium Australia in Sydney on July 14 - get your tickets at NRL.com/tickets.