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NSW halfback Nathan Cleary emphatically responded to his critics with a man of the match performance that steered the Blues to victory in State of Origin II.

Coach Brad Fittler, who showed his faith by installing Cleary as vice-captain after James Tedesco was promoted, lauded the 22-year-old's kicking game in the 34-10 win over Queensland at ANZ Stadium.

Teammate Damien Cook was astounded by Cleary's mental resilience to bounce back in such a sensational manner after his place in the side was questioned following the series-opening loss in Adelaide.

Much was made of the fact Cleary hadn't recorded a try, try assist, line break or line-break assist in his six previous Origins.

He tallied a line break and line-break assist on Wednesday, and though he wasn't officially credited with a try assist by NRL Stats, he was involved in a few of NSW's scoring plays.

Fittler pays homage to Cleary's character

"It's unbelievable how tough he is and how mature he is at such a young age. He's probably going to wear that jersey for a long time, that's why Freddie [Fittler] made him the vice-captain," Cook said.

"I've got all the time in the world for Nath, he's very professional in everything he does and it was great to see him play well.

"Unfairly I think the halves take the pressure. But that comes with being the halfback. We probably let Nath and [Luke] Keary down a little bit last week. We didn't get on the front foot and allow them to kick on the front foot and do those sorts of things.

Cleary's man-of-the-match performance by the numbers

"Tonight we did that. I thought Nathan was outstanding, Cody [Walker] was great with his kicking game. They both were running the ball really well. We had a game plan and we stuck to it."

Fittler said five-eighth Cody Walker "complemented" Cleary and also spoke of the No.7's impressive demeanour.

"I think a lot of people think he's got really good character. He's a tough kid so he just handled it. It was just great, you know. It was great for the future of Penrith and the Blues," Fittler said.

Channel 9's experts were effusive in their praise for Cleary too.

"In big games you want to be on the front foot with your kicking game," Maroons legend Johnathan Thurston said on air.

"A well-deserved man of the match, he was outstanding tonight."

Addo-Carr steps back inside to score from a scrum

Cleary was the standout in Telstra Tracker terms as well. The playmaker covered more distance (7.7km) than anyone else, with teammate Clint Gutherson (7.4km) trailing behind.

He played at the highest intensity with 125 metres per minute and posted the third-highest maximum speed (33.1km/h).

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