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Soward: Cleary clearly ahead of DCE for Kangaroos No.7 jersey

The debate is over: it's time for Nathan Cleary to replace Daly Cherry-Evans as the Australian halfback.

Cleary was again one of NSW's best on Sunday night as they wrapped up the Origin series with a 26-0 win over Cherry-Evans's Queensland.

Daly has been a fantastic servant for his state and country, and his footy is still top-notch. He's one of the best halves in the game.

But Cherry-Evans is not on the level of Cleary, who is the best player - let alone halfback - in the world. Blues fullback James Tedesco is a very close second and Tom Trbojevic is up there too.

For a guy that touches the ball so much and makes so many crucial decisions, no one can tell me Cherry-Evans is better than Cleary.

Nathan has the ability to elevate the players around him, much like the greats of the game in Andrew Johns and Johnathan Thurston.

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Think about what they did for their teammates - Thurston boosted Gavin Cooper from the Cowboys into the Maroons side.

Teams feed off their main playmaker and Nathan relishes that responsibility. He's always got a cool head.

Cleary needed to own an Origin series, and while he might not have got the praise received by Turbo, Tedesco or Latrell Mitchell, he's been outstanding.

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While Cleary and Jarome Luai look so comfortable with each other, what we saw from Queensland was a lot of overcalling in game two.

The Maroons weren't on the same page and their attack looked disorganised. Their plans would have been disrupted by Reece Walsh's withdrawal late in the week, but with three premiership winners in their spine, you'd expect them to adjust on the run.

Queensland didn't have a commander in chief - they all were waiting around for someone else to do something.

We can't let their halves off lightly. Cameron Munster could become one of the all-time greats, but he lacked direction on Sunday night. The same goes for Cherry-Evans, who didn't show his leadership qualities.

Last year Munster bounced in off the back of the Storm's premiership win and with everyone writing off the Maroons, they probably felt like they were playing with house money as they caused a boilover.

But I think coaching has been the big difference in 2021.

Freddy Fittler knows his NSW squad now. He learned a lot about himself last year and was humble in defeat. He started working straight away, and Origin's about preparation and timing it just right.

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I can't help but think that Queensland got it wrong with hiring Paul Green to take over Wayne Bennett as the coach. It was a weird one considering they had Billy Slater, who I think is one of the best thinkers ever, especially of the younger brigade.

Bennett's influence on the series has still been apparent. He got Mitchell cherry-ripe for NSW through coaching the Rabbitohs.

The series is gone, but the Maroons have everything to play for in game three because it can mean so much for the next 12 months.

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They can go into enemy territory and stop the rot now, chalk up the first two games as bad nights and start building for 2022.

But if they come down and get rissoled, the talk about a Blues dynasty will gain momentum because NSW will be hungry for success.

Still, you don't want to be arrogant in predicting the future.

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It was only six months ago that everyone was wondering how NSW lost that series to Queensland, and we had a lot of the same players in key positions including Damien Cook, Tedesco and Cleary.

However, if the Blues ever wanted to turn the tide after Queensland's unprecedented success from 2006-2013, they've started the right way.

I expect the Maroons will make a few changes. Kalyn Ponga should come in if he's fit and Valentine Holmes needs to go back to the wing.

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And they need to find another centre. I love Kurt Capewell, but it's so unfair watching him try to mark Trbojevic. Even though he's done an admirable job, that's just not his position.

Most of all, Queensland need to find some heart. They haven't been the passionate side that I grew up watching or that I played against.

Regardless of the changes they make, it's attitude that requires fixing.


The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARL Commission, NRL clubs or state associations.

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