Soward: Why Cleary shouldn’t be picked for Origin opener

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Nothing would make me happier than seeing Penrith Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary play State of Origin – I just don’t think it should be in Game I.

While there’s a chance the 20-year-old will be back from injury for one or two games before NSW coach Brad Fittler picks his Game I side, I honestly don’t think that’s enough time to prepare him for the challenges of Origin footy.

It could have a negative impact on Cleary’s long-term representative career.

With Cleary three to four weeks away, I personally think he needs at least a month of footy under his belt to even be considered for a Blues spot.

Let’s be honest – all going well for the talented youngster, Cleary will be the Blues halfback for at least the next 10 years, that’s why I strongly believe there is no reason to rush him straight in for Game I in Melbourne.

I also don’t think Panthers boss Phil Gould and coach Anthony Griffin would like to see him picked for Origin I either, knowing how important he is to their side too.

If Cleary was an Origin veteran of 20 games or more then things would be far different.
He could be selected on short preparation because he knows what to expect in the game’s biggest arena.

An injured Nathan Cleary. Photo: NRL Photos

But Origin takes a lot out of you, it’s not an extra three games of footy – it’s so much more than that.

It’s the new style of preparation, the constant media scrutiny and tonnes of expectation.

Cleary also plays the most important position in the team, adding even more pressure on the kid.

We all know he’s the Blues’ best chance to win an Origin series, but rushing him in so soon after his first major knee injury is plain silly.

Blake Green or Luke Keary should partner James Maloney in the halves for Game I, and if that combination fails to fire, Cleary should definitely be considered for Game II.

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