Penrith’s Nathan Cleary will play at halfback for New South Wales in next month’s State of Origin series opener in Brisbane.
Despite the Panthers sitting second last on the ladder and Cleary struggling to find his best form, Blues coach Brad Fittler has remained loyal to the 21-year-old for this year’s series.
While a number of key halves contenders including Luke Keary, Adam Reynolds and Mitchell Pearce were injured over the weekend, it is understood Cleary remained the front-runner for the number seven jersey regardless.
Cody Walker will partner Cleary in the halves.
Blues selector Greg Alexander confirmed Cleary’s role in last Thursday’s win over the Eels for the Panthers was critical.
“For Nathan it all came down to Thursday night against the Eels,” Alexander told Fox Sports News.
“He was told during the week that needed to show something even though he was the incumbent.”
Cleary will not be available for Penrith’s round 12 NRL clash with Manly at Panthers Stadium this Thursday night, with James Maloney and Jarome Luai likely to be named in the halves.
Penrith are also struggling to find centres for Thursday night’s game with both Waqa Blake and Dean Whare to spend an extended period on the sidelines through injury.
Blake will be out for up to 10 weeks with a knee injury while a hamstring problem will keep Whare out for around six weeks.
In some good news, Isaah Yeo will make his return from a shoulder injury.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor and Senior Writer. He has more than 15 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia’s leading media organisations.