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'As tough as it gets': Cleary answers critics just in time

Penrith halfback Nathan Cleary feels he has done as much as he can to retain his NSW No.7 jersey and will now wait to see whether coach Brad Fittler and the Blues brains-trust decide it is good enough.

Cleary turned in a timely match-winning performance for the Panthers in Thursday night’s 16-10 defeat of Parramatta at Bankwest Stadium but admitted afterwards that he’d been down in form at the start of the season.

Fittler was on hand at the match and spoke to Cleary before and after the game but gave no indication about whether the 21-year-old would win the nod ahead of South Sydney halfback Adam Reynolds and Newcastle’s Mitchell Pearce when the team is announced on Sunday night.

“I saw him before the game and had a chat, I saw him after the game as well and he is always supportive. I have known him since I was one-year-old,” Cleary said of Fittler.

"If I get picked I will be absolutely stoked, it is a tremendous honour to get picked in a Blues jersey but my No.1 job is here with Penrith and trying to turn our season around.

“I haven’t been in the best form at the start of the season, that is just fact so we will have to see what happens over the weekend.”

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After being blooded in last year’s winning series, Cleary is favoured to continue in the role as Fittler is reluctant to keep changing halfbacks.

If the Blues opt for Reynolds or Pearce and the team doesn’t perform, it is difficult to go back to Cleary after he had been overlooked for the series opener.

However, Fittler’s priority is to steer NSW to the state’s first back-to-back Origin series win since 2005.

There are some who believe that selecting Cleary would be disruptive to the NSW preparations as there would be a huge media focus on the Panthers playmaker but it would be no different if Pearce was recalled after playing 18 Origins since 2008 without winning a series.

Cleary believes he has come to terms with the scrutiny and pressure on him and the Panthers this season after the video scandal which led to Tyrone May being stood down under the NRL’s new “no fault stand down” policy and a six-game losing streak.

“It is obviously tough when people are constantly talking about you every week and you are copping constant criticism but we have stuck together as a family and stuck together as a team,” Cleary said.

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“It’s been tough at times and I have probably taken it to heart too much but I have really tried to block it out and I have a lot of people who really support me. I am lucky with that, especially my family … I go home and they are really positive and happy.

“I thought there was always going to be tough times but I definitely didn’t think we would start the season like we did. It is probably as tough as it gets, it has just been constant bagging coming from everywhere but you have just got to live with that.”

Fittler is expected to stick with fullback James Tedesco, the left edge of winger Josh Addo-Carr and centre Latrell Mitchell, while Sydney Roosters five-eighth Luke Keary is favoured for the No.6 jersey after playing the role for Australia in the Tests against New Zealand and Tonga at the end of last season.

Props David Klemmer and Paul Vaughan, hooker Damien Cook, second-rowers Boyd Cordner and Tyson Frizell and lock Jake Trbojevic pick themselves if fit.

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Penrith prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard played in Origin I last season before breaking his jaw but is unlikely to be selected after dropped by Panthers coach Ivan Cleary to Canterbury Cup in round 10.

“I think that was a wake-up call and probably just a booster for myself because you go back there and you realise how much you do miss it,” Campbell-Gillard said.

“I had a really good convo with Ivan, I have a really good relationship with him. I just went back and had a bit of fun, I think that was probably the main thing that was missing from my football. I did that last week and felt really good.

“There’s definitely games this year I have felt good and there’s obviously games I haven’t felt up to that standard so I have got to be consistent.”

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