Fittler leaving Origin door open for Cleary
NSW Blues coach Brad Fittler is leaving the door open for Nathan Cleary to force his way into Origin I at the MCG if he can prove his fitness in time.
The Penrith Panthers star is trying to recover from a knee injury ahead of schedule, which would give him two matches before the Holden State of Origin series kicks off in Melbourne on June 6.
Fittler said Cleary's combination at club level with James Maloney, the incumbent Blues five-eighth, could potentially give him the inside running.
"He's a pretty incredible guy, Nathan, what he's doing at his age," Fittler said at the series launch in Melbourne on Tuesday.
"I suppose the one thing he does have in his favour is the fact that - and hopefully James Maloney is still playing good and not injured - is his combination (with Maloney) might really work for us.
"Only time will tell."
The 20-year-old's selection could be one of many as Fittler and Queensland coach Kevin Walters look to bring in new faces.
Fittler is happy with his group of players but is concerned about injuries to the likes of Jordan McLean and Dale Finucane, who were in contention for the Blues squad until their injuries on the weekend.
"I think the form of the players in our batch makes me feel a little at ease," he said.
"A lot of the Sydney teams are doing well.
"It's a pretty big melting pot that myself and my staff are going through. The injuries are starting to stain it (though)."
The Maroons have their own challenges across the board, with incumbent middles like Dylan Napa and Jarrod Wallace struggling to make an impact at club level.
But Walters is giving his squad time to get into form.
"Most of the Queensland teams have struggled this year initially," he said.
"The Broncos, Titans, Storm have been a bit up and down, the Cowboys. With Origin still being a couple of months away, there's no real concerns for us just yet. I guess the next six weeks is pretty important for a lot of teams, and a lot of those players to get some form and confidence leading to Origin."
Storm five-eighth Cameron Munster showed there was life after Johnathan Thurston or Cooper Cronk in his excellent game-three performance last year. The veteran halves duo have retired from representative football.
"I guess with those two (Thurston and Cronk) not available, it does open up an opportunity for a younger player to come in - or a guy who hasn't had opportunities at that level in those positions," Walters said.
"They are key positions. And you think back over the past 10 or 12 years since this team has come together, in most of the clutch moments, one of them have been involved, or Cam (Smith) or Billy (Slater). It's going to be a big challenge for us."
Queensland captain Cameron Smith is enjoying bringing through the likes of Munster and the next generation of talent.
"Over the years, we've lost some quality rugby league players who have retired or left the Origin arena, and we've managed to keep our success going," he said.
"I'd like to think we can do that again with the guys who come in. Is it going to be a different looking around the team room and not seeing Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk? Absolutely, because they have been mainstays for our squad for a long time. We need to move past that pretty quickly."
Witness Australia’s greatest sporting rivalry when Origin comes to the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Wednesday June 6. Tickets available at NRL.com/tickets