NSW’s first series-winning State of Origin halfback Steve Mortimer has backed Nathan Cleary to stand up where so many other Blues have fallen in recent years.
Cleary can join an esteemed group of just seven Blues halfbacks to have guided NSW to a series victory with a win on Sunday night, following on from his success on debut in Melbourne.
Those players include the very best to have played for the Blues, most notably through the likes of Mortimer, Andrew Johns, Peter Sterling, Ricky Stuart and Geoff Toovey.
That comes despite some 20 players having worn the No.7 in Origin, including eight in the past 12 years with only Trent Hodkinson having emerged victorious.
Cleary was solid without being spectacular for the Blues at the MCG.
While he didn’t lay on any tries, he took a number of hits without looking to rush a pass or sending one to ground.
He and five-eighth James Maloney also controlled the game well in the second half, as the Blues held onto and then kicked on from their 16-12 with half hour to play.
And with that first match out of the way Mortimer is confident the Penrith No.7 will be better for the experience.
“Nathan Cleary is a great player,” Mortimer, who led NSW to their first series victory in 1985, said.
“He will become a lot more used to going in the second game and he also he has a wonderful five-eighth in James Maloney who has been getting in his ear.
“All the rookies will be ready for it now. They’re confident and they’ve won. But again they’ve got to keep their feet on the ground”
Maloney also backed his Penrith teammate to have increased involvement at ANZ Stadium, after he entered the MCG with the weight of being the face of the Blues’ next generation.
“He’ll be better for the run, there’s no doubt about that,” Maloney said.
“He knows a little bit about what Origin is like.
He will be a little bit more comfortable just with the players and understands what we’re trying to do a little bit more.
“I think all the new guys have still got to understand it will go up another level on Sunday and be prepared for that.”
NSW’S series-winning halfbacks:
*Qualifier: Two wins in series played at halfback.