Nathan Cleary expects to be targeted by Queensland Maroons in State of Origin series

Nathan Cleary will lead the Blues around the park this Origin series but he expects a lot of Maroons to be in his grill like he does.

Blues superstar half-back Nathan Cleary expects to be targeted by the Maroons when State of Origin takes place in less than two weeks after hitting questionable tackles from the Cowboys in Friday’s 22-0 win home.

Cleary was unable to take Penrith’s final shot as he hobbled with a stopper, likely due to a tackle from Jordan McLean around the legs while in the air following of a midfield bomb, but there’s no doubt about it for Origin’s opener.

It seemed like a clear penalty under the rules, but play was allowed to continue.

“I just thought McLean’s was usually a penalty,” Cleary said.

“Usually no matter what happens, if you end up in a dangerous position, it’s a penalty. But I can’t complain too much about that.

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The Blues will rely heavily on Cleary’s right boot given he has the best and most varied kicking game in the NRL.

But he knows he won’t have as much time and space as he usually has in the June 8 opener. Christian Welch is usually tasked with getting opposite Cleary, but the Maroons prop will miss the series due to injury. It just opens the door for someone else to try and shake their cage.

β€œIt’s the beast that is Origin. This is the hardest scene to play. You just don’t have a lot of time. It’s something I look forward to. It’s a big challenge and something I have to try to fight,” he said.

“Origin is a beast on its own and there aren’t too many ticking penalties in there. I’m fine with that. I look forward to the challenge every time I play it.

Panthers coach Ivan Cleary was stunned his team didn’t pick up a few penalties when his son and star player was placed in dangerous positions.

“I felt like the kicking pressure changed again tonight because we were never getting kicking pressure penalties. He was tackled several times tonight late and in the air. Maybe be that it has changed,” the coach said.

One thing that will certainly change next week is Penrith’s squad for the game against Canterbury.

The Panthers could have up to seven players in Team NSW, which means there will be plenty of opportunities for their fringe players to carve out a place.

One man knocking on the door of a first grade is Kurt Falls. The talented running back grew up playing footy with Cleary and showed plenty of talent on the reserve, including one day when he had five assists against the Dragons in the second set.

The Panthers struggled during the Origin period last year, but the leaderboards are confident they’ve learned what it takes to keep the momentum going.

“Yeah, I think we’re in a really good position,” Nathan Cleary said.

“Most of the guys coming in have freshman experience other than Kurt if he gets his chance.

β€œI will be pumped for him too. I went to school with Kurt and he just broke down. He was never in the limelight and was pretty much Ron Massey until he got his big team shot last year. He worked hard and I would like to see him play in first year.

“He knows what he’s doing. We pick each other’s brains from time to time. The one thing I like about our team is that we always challenge each other to improve. We have a pretty good halftime band right now. Me, Sean (O’Sullivan) and ‘Fallsy’ are spending quite a bit of time together. I’d be pumped for him.

Originally published as Nathan Cleary expecting to be targeted by the Maroons in the Origin series

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