‘I’m all in with him’: Cleary lands dramatic promotion
Rather than dump Nathan Cleary, the Blues have shown the ultimate faith in the under-fire halfback by anointing him the next NSW captain.
Cleary has been appointed vice-captain following James Tedesco's promotion to the captaincy role after injury ruled Boyd Cordner out of the series. Immortal Andrew Johns led calls for Cleary to be axed from the squad following Wednesday's Origin opening loss.
Instead Cleary has not only kept his place he has been given a senior leadership role by coach Brad Fittler.
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Fittler said he had the utmost faith in Cleary and the rest of his squad after making just one forced change to the team.
"Was he great (in Adelaide)? No, he wasn't, but he knows that," Fittler said.
"He knows his job. We need someone to own the team and I feel like he's the one we'll give that opportunity to.
"I just feel he's a big part of NSW going forward, without a doubt. He still did a lot of really good things in the game.
"There's a really good group of kids there. We just need to make sure we set the base up well and he's part of the base.
"Absolutely (I'm all in with him). I'm all in with all of them. We've put faith in a lot of players. Across the board we were a seven out of ten when most Origin games we've been about a nine.
"We haven't just shown faith in Nathan, we've shown faith in a lot of players. There are some really good kids there pushing at the moment.
"You don't want to throw people to the wolves. At some stage you need to back some and I think they're a good enough team to back."
Fittler downplayed the criticism of Cleary saying he had not seen any of the public reaction from the Origin loss but added "A lot of those people might be paid to give opinions".
"But they're not here or in camp with us," Fittler said. "I'm happy for everyone to have an opinion. That's why Origin is so good."
Cleary will have a new halves partner in Cody Walker after Luke Keary was the only player dropped. Cleary and Walker played in last year's Origin opener loss before Walker made his way out of the team.
Cleary said he was under no illusions what he needs to do better.
"It would be end of sets," Cleary said.
"I didn't give them the ball in the corners and in the right place enough times. It's something I want to work on and implement. Owning the moments."
It has been an emotional two weeks for Cleary who followed up a heartbreaking grand final defeat with an Origin loss. But at just 22 he remains unflappable even while some of the game's greats questioned his place in the team.
"It's what comes with the jersey," Cleary said.
"Any time you pull on the No. 7 jersey you ride the rollercoaster of footy. It's what we love sometimes and other times it's hard.
"I never take it for granted. One thing I pride myself on is being grateful for the position I'm in.
"Anyone who gets to pull on a rugby league jersey is grateful let alone to do it for the Blues. I'm very grateful and blessed.
"I don't like losing. It's having the mindset you can't change what's happened - you just have to get better.
"I get pretty hard on myself and disappointed with a couple of things. If I'm dwelling on that it impacts the rest of the team. It's about getting better each day and bouncing ideas off the coaching staff and players around us."
Originally published as 'I'm all in with him': Cleary lands dramatic promotion