State of Origin 2019: Nathan Cleary overcomes poor form to keep NSW spot

Nathan Cleary in action for Penrith Panthers
Nathan Cleary in action for Penrith Panthers. Photo credit: AAP

NSW coach Brad Fittler has kept faith with Nathan Cleary, retaining the out-of-form Penrith playmaker for Wednesday week's State of Origin opener.

In the end, Fittler was short on alternatives, after the Blues' halves stock were decimated by a horror injury run over the weekend, with Cleary getting the nod alongside five debutants for the June 5 clash at Suncorp Stadium.

After just one series, the 21-year-old was in danger of being dropped, after his side's disastrous start to the season.

But after showing glimpses of his best in the Panthers' unconvincing win over Parramatta on Thursday, he was picked in the number-seven jersey.

Luke Keary (concussion) and Mitchell Pearce (groin) were both in contention, but went down over the weekend.

Likewise, South Sydney's Adam Reynolds had made a compelling argument for a Blues recall, after leading his side to the top of the ladder, but picked up a leg injury on Saturday night.

On Sunday, Reynolds was cleared of major injury, but Fittler said he wouldn't be able to train for at least the first few days of camp, so he opted to go with Cleary.

"I spoke to Nathan during the week and we spoke about what he's playing under at the moment," Fittler said.

"I spoke to his dad [Panthers coach Ivan] and said if he can stand up this week, it tells me he'll be right.

"I thought he was fantastic [against Parramatta] in a pretty tough game. That told us he was going to be ready.

"Then watching Adam go down, that combination with Cody Walker could have been valuable, but the cards fell the way they did and Nathan got the shot."

Walker is one of five debutants along with Rabbitohs teammate Cameron Murray, Canberra pair Nick Cotric and Jack Wighton, and Brisbane young gun Payne Haas.

Sydney Roosters' Angus Crichton edged out St George Illawarra's Tariq Sims for a bench spot.

Fittler said back-rower Tyson Frizell was expected to be fit, despite suffering a sickening head clash in the Dragons' loss to Cronulla on Sunday, during which he was knocked out cold.

But Frizell will have to pass concussion protocols during the week.

"I went down and talked to Friz at halftime, and he wanted to go back on," Fittler said.

"He had that silly smile on his face. I don't know if he actually knew he was talking to me.

"He got cleared by the medical staff. Obviously, he couldn't go back on, but I think he'll be okay."

Josh Morris returns to the side, after a three-year absence, and will team up with Cotric on the right edge, where he will be asked to contain the likes of Kalyn Ponga and Cameron Munster.

Fittler dropped Panthers pair James Maloney and Reagan Campbell-Gillard, and Brisbane's James Roberts because of form.

Queensland name their side on Monday.

NSW: JamesTedesco, NickCotric, LatrellMitchell, JoshMorris, JoshAddo-Carr, Cody Walker, Nathan Cleary, David Klemmer, Damien Cook, Paul Vaughan, Boyd Cordner, Tyson Frizell, Jake Trbojevic. Interchange: Jack Wighton, Payne Haas, Cameron Murray, Angus Crichton.



Join us for live updates of the State of Origin series