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Half chances: The Blues' six options to replace Cleary

With star halfback Nathan Cleary out of Origin III with a shoulder injury, Blues coach Brad Fittler needs a new halves pairing in his quest for a rare clean sweep.

NRL.com stats has run the rule over the six most likely solutions available to the Blues brains trust.

Five-eighth Jarome Luai has made a stunning start to his Origin career and is a certain starter for Game Three despite the absence of his club halves partner.

Whether he remains at five-eighth or gets handed the keys to the team as halfback alongside a new No.6 will have a big bearing on which of the six candidates Fittler goes with to replace Cleary.

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The six possible combinations

Adam Reynolds and Jarome Luai

Pros: Reynolds is one of the best generals in the NRL and has one of the best all-round kicking games in the competition. A club captain and grand final winner with two Origin caps to his name in 2016, he would not be overawed.

Has existing club combinations with fellow Blues starts Latrell Mitchell, Damien Cook and Cam Murray. He is also one of the NRL's best sharpshooters with no other first-string kickers in the team after Cleary (although Mitchell is a top-shelf back-up).

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Cons: At 30, Reynolds is hardly the future of the Blues, and he and Luai have never played together.

Although Souths are sitting in fourth, Reynolds' own form has been steady rather than eye-catching with very quiet attacking numbers this year while his defensive numbers are also among the weakest of the six in contention.

Sit back and appluad Jarome Luai

Mitch Moses and Jarome Luai

Pros: Moses' Eels have had three huge wins in a row and sit in third on the ladder, with Moses having huge performances in the recent run. Showed earlier in the year against Melbourne he has matured to the point he can also grind out a tough win when needed.

Has a strong relationship with Fittler from their time together with Lebanon at the 2017 World Cup. At 26 he is coming into his prime as a playmaker and is a chance of being around the Blues set-up, even if only as a back-up, for a long period. Attacking instincts should gel with the current Blues crop and his defence has improved markedly in recent years.

Cons: Has no existing combination with Luai or any of the other playmakers in the side. Would be coming in cold from outside the squad for a one-off game with no prior Origin experience and no certainty of being in contention past this year.

Panthers v Eels - Round 16

Mitchell Pearce and Jarome Luai

Pros: With 302 NRL games and 19 Origins, Pearce has been there and done it all before and would be happy to fill a role without being put in charge of the side and just slot into the existing structures.

A strong defender with a reliable long kicking game, Pearce presents a safe option. And as someone who suffered more than most at the hands of the Maroon dynasty (and wore more than his fair share of criticism) it could be fitting he gets a chance to make some hay while the going is smoother.

Cons: On the flipside of that, Pearce may be content with his 2019 Origin fairy-tale and just put Origin in the rear-view mirror permanently. Only recently returned from a three-month lay-off with a pectoral injury so is somewhat underdone.

From that point of view it may be a risk or slightly unfair to rush him back into Origin.

Jarome Luai and Jack Wighton

Pros: Would be just rewards for Wighton, who has been a part of the entire campaign but only been given very limited minutes off the bench so far. Wighton is more the old-school Origin five-eighth – a big body and strong runner who supports the main halfback.

He has a long boot so Cleary's absence wouldn't necessarily leave a gaping hole if the Blues needed to kick out of trouble and is the best of the six candidates from a defensive perspective. This would also open the door for Api Koroisau – who has also been there for the whole campaign as 18th man in the first two games – a chance to debut off the bench.

Cons: It leaves the team short in terms of a game-managing general. If things get tight, it's generally the halfback's job to bring the talk, execute the game plan and drag the team out of trouble.

That's not to say Luai couldn't do it but he's barely ever had to at NRL level thanks to Cleary, and it's also never really been Wighton's job at Canberra either.

Jarome Luai and Cody Walker

Pros: Walker has played four Origins under Fittler so has good familiarity already with the coach and plenty of the players – particularly Souths teammates Mitchell, Cook and Murray.

Is in blinding form at club level with his try involvements through the roof and his evasive running causing plenty of headaches for oppositions. Has the attacking mindset to help orchestrate another blow-out if the Blues are camped on the front foot.

Cody Walker in action for the Blues in Origin I last year.
Cody Walker in action for the Blues in Origin I last year. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

Cons: On paper, Walker is probably the most similar in style to Luai and as such the least complementary partner. He is the only one of the six that would leave the team without a recognised long kicker (though between he and Luai they would not doubt manage).

Has won just one of his four Origins despite playing during a period of relative dominance for the Blues. Not the strongest defensive numbers of the candidates either.

Jarome Luai and Matt Burton

Pros: Burton is very much the roughie but if the pair put in a huge performance together against the Eels on Friday night then who knows.

Burton is Cleary's replacement at club level and has done so to great effect, combining well with Luai in a win over the Storm earlier this year with the pair having a good understanding of each other's games. Burton is a likely Blues rep of the future and has been totally unfazed by anything so far in his career so there is investment value in giving him a taste now.

Something special from Matt Burton

Cons: For all his obvious potential Burton isn't a first-string half at his current club (behind an admittedly all-star pairing) and has been playing centre of late.

Had a couple of chances in the halves while Cleary and Luai were out recently with Penrith losing both games so he'll be looking for a big one this week. With a rare clean sweep in the offing this is arguably the option with the most risk attached.

Pick your Blues Origin team

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