Nathan Cleary has described NSW’s 16-10 loss in the opening State of Origin as a “reality check” and the “kick up the backside” he needed as the Blues prepare to win the series by triumphing in Perth and Brisbane.
Cleary, who is considered one of the best players in the NRL after steering Penrith to a premiership last season, had arguably his worst performance in a Blues jersey as Queensland halves Cameron Munster and Daly Cherry-Evans and hooker Harry Grant took control of Wednesday night’s game.
A dejected Cleary took personal responsibility for the defeat as the Blues chief playmaker but has vowed to be learn from the loss ahead of Origin II at Perth’s Optus Stadium on June 26.
“Any time the team loses I will take that personally and I definitely didn’t play well,” Cleary said. “It is a lesson. I can’t change it now, but I can change what I do leading into the next Origin or the next club game.
“In Origin you have got to take your moments. I thought Cam and Daly did really well, so I have got to do what they did.
Munster's man of the match performance
"I thought all of their spine played well. They were all around the ball and their forwards laid a good platform too.
“It was a tough game - that is what Origin is about - and they probably took their moments a bit better than what we did.
That is on me as much as anyone.Nathan Cleary
Cleary has been the lynchpin in a Panthers side that has dominated the Telstra Premiership for the past three seasons and have lost just one match since winning last year’s Grand Final.
Understandably, the Blues side for Game One included six Penrith players, but the pace and intensity of Origin was a step up from what they have faced from rival NRL teams this season.
"I think you have to [take the loss hard]," Cleary reflected. "Especially as a halfback and a leader of the team.
"My performance can lift others around me, and I wasn’t good enough.
“I didn’t play well enough and that affects the result. It is on me to get better and if I am better the rest of the team is too.
“You have never fully got the game worked out," he added. "You think you are going alright and then a game like this happens. Sometimes it is not a bad thing.
"It is a reality check that I need to get better, but win or lose I will keep trying to get better and it is no different this time.”
The Blues were without superstar centres Tom Trbojevic and Latrell Mitchell but Cleary said Jack Wighton, in particular, had played well after being selected out of position at left centre.
Wighton scored an early try but the Maroons took control of the ruck after Grant and Patrick Carrigan were injected from the interchange midway through the first half.
“As much as you would love to have Latrell and Tommy out there we don’t and I thought our centres did well,” Cleary said. “They are outstanding players but I thought Jack Wighton was enormous, he looked really dangerous.
Jack Wighton opens the scoring for the Blues
“I will review the game and go more in depth with what I need to do. I can’t be too focused on the results, I need to be focused driven and sometimes it is good to have a little kick up the backside that I do need to get better.”
Witness Australia's greatest rivalry with tickets selling fast for every game of the 2022 Ampol State of Origin series! Get yours today.