Cleary goes from 'very nervous' to Origin winner
Before kick-off, the greatest NSW halfback came up to NSW's greatest halfback prospect and passed on advice.
Nathan Cleary was nervous. "Very nervous" to be exact.
He'd never even warmed up inside a dressing room let alone played a State of Origin game in front of 85,000 people at the country's most iconic sporting ground.
But he overcame the nerves in typical Nathan Cleary fashion. Through grit, not magic.
Through resilience, not flamboyance. Through defence, not attack.
"I found it hard to get in the game in attack but we had people like Teddy [James Tedesco] and Jimmy Maloney steadying the ship," Cleary said after the match.
"Teddy was on fire. My job for the team was not to let them down in defence and I'm glad I did that tonight.
"Freddy kept reiterating to me not to overthink things. He just said to make your tackles. Joey said it to me before the game and that was something that really stuck in my head."
When you look back at the match, Cleary, whose father Ivan Cleary was with his family in the stands, will feature in few highlight reel plays when it comes to NSW's tries.
That was left to Maloney and Tedesco.
But there was a moment in the second half that will be replayed for years to come, with Queensland captain Greg Inglis crunching the Blues No.7 in a moment that Cleary strangely enjoyed.
"It was a good one," he said.
"He got me a beauty there. I'm glad I'll make the highlight reel of Origin on that one. It was actually pretty funny reflecting back on it. I'm kind of glad I got hit by him. It's kind of cool."
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There has been so much talk about Cleary since making his debut, coincidentally in Melbourne, two years ago.
The speculation about when he would be ready for the Origin arena has been around almost as long.
On the morning of the game, Cleary took a moment to reflect on the enormity of what he was about to accomplish.
"I honestly cannot put it into words," he said.
"It's the best feeling ever. I thought about it this morning. All my footy life has been leading to this day. It was just such a big build up. To get out there and get a win on debut is a dream come true."
While he was soaking up all the excitement of a victory on debut, Cleary remains a realist and knows he will have to improve in game two if NSW are to close out the series on home soil.
"The kicking game has got to get better," Cleary said.
"I have to go back to the drawing board with that and hopefully produce better in game two."
Game I is done and dusted! Don’t miss Game II of Origin at ANZ Stadium on Sunday 24 June. Click here to get your tickets