Penrith playmaker Nathan Cleary has won the praises of his New South Wales coach and captain after the halfback delivered a virtuoso performance to level the State of Origin series at Optus Stadium.
In front of a sold-out crowd, Cleary scored 24 points to claim man-of-the-match honours for the Blues as they thumped Queensland 44-12.
The Panthers star set up one try in the first half, before adding two of his own in the second half as he also finished with a perfect conversion and penalty goal record.
After copping criticism for a sub-par game one, Cleary’s performance won him the plaudits of both his coach and his captain.
“I thought he read the game really well, setting up the try early with the kick. They were coming and put a lot of pressure on us with their outside defence,” Blues coach Brad Fittler said.
“I think by the end of the game, they were pretty fatigued and and Jarome Luai just took advantage – that’s what they can do, they do it at Penrith – but I think he set it up early with a few decisions early.”
New South Wales captain James Tedesco said while he thought some of the criticism of Cleary in game one had been unfair, his response was excellent.
“He came out the week after and carved up for Penrith and he brang (sic) that confidence into game two,” he said.
“That shows what a champion player he is. He’s awesome to play with and he was probably our best tonight.”
Queensland coach Billy Slater was left to rue the final half hour of play as the Blues piled on five unanswered tries to put the game out of the Maroons’ reach and square the series.
“I think that first 50 minutes was a good contest and then New South Wales just started playing with a little bit more energy than us and some concentration things crept into our game and we compounded that, so that’s where it was decided,” he said.
“I think it’s probably more concentration than complacency. I think we lacked a little bit of concentration in our roles and it wasn’t any one player, it was pretty much across the board.
“There was a lot of things, players sort of lost their concentration and that just helped New South Wales gain a little bit of energy, which they already had.”
Tedesco praised the boisterous home crowd and applauded the 59, 358 punters who helped create a cauldron-like atmosphere throughout the game.
“It was an awesome atmosphere running out there and you could hear them the whole game. It’s a pretty surreal atmosphere running out, it’s a big stadium and you definitely hear the ground,” he said.