Joey backflips, gives Cleary the boot
Rugby league immortal Andrew Johns has stunningly reversed his call for NSW to dump five-eighth Luke Keary - to instead pile pressure on halfback Nathan Cleary.
Johns' post-match verdict on Wednesday night was scathing of the Blues' halves combination in the wake of Queensland's miracle second half comeback in the biggest upset in the Origin arena since 1995.
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Johns' assessment of Keary overshadowed other selection criticism which centred around Cleary and maligned centres Jack Wighton and Clint Gutherson.
With Blues coach Brad Fittler to announce his side for Game 2 on Friday afternoon, Johns has given him serious reasons to consider axing the Panthers star.
Johns on Friday told The Sydney Morning Herald, he is now leaning towards partnering Keary with Rabbitohs playmaker Cody Walker for Game 2 in Sydney on Wednesday in a move that would see Cleary dropped completely and Storm fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen selected for the bench utility role.
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Johns' stunning comments suggest Cleary may have run his race for 2020.
"The more thought I give it, the more I'd like to see how Keary and Cody would go," Johns said.
"More experience and Nathan's had a long year. He's young as a halfback at club level but in terms of Origin he's a baby. This is the next development for Nathan as a halfback: create under pressure, under fatigue, with his team on the back foot."
After NSW only managed one try in the second half, once Walker had been brought on late in the game, Johns has singled out Cleary's failure to conjure points in the rare opportunities NSW had to camp inside the Maroons' red zone.
"Ninety per cent of Origin is high completions, great kicking game, great kick-chase, and on the back of that comes a really fast-moving, aggressive defensive line," Johns said.
"The most important thing after that is discipline. You can't give any Queensland team an easy out with a penalty.
"When you get field position, you get your chance to attack. That's the remaining 10 per cent. That's where the halves come in and that's when they get the points.
"The Blues' forwards were courageous coming off their own line, trying to get field position, but it was impossible. The hard thing about Origin is there are limited penalties and there was hardly any six-to-go calls in the second half.
"That's why, as a half, you need an escape plan, shifting the ball early to your outside backs. We didn't see that until Cody Walker came on late in the game with fresh legs."
During the game, NRL guru Phil Gould was also scathing of the Blues' halves failure to take control in the second half.
Immediately after the game, Johns called for Keary to be dropped in favour of Walker.
"I think that he comes into for Luke Keary," Johns told Channel Nine.
"Luke, defensively tonight, looked a little bit vulnerable on that side of the field.
"They have had a long year the Roosters, they have been up for a long time.
"What I saw tonight in the last 15 to 20 minutes I think that Cody Walker has to start.
"He has to come in at five-eighth. He provides a lot of creativity.
"The Blues' left side of the field looked vulnerable on occasions.
"I thought when he came on the field, Cody, he likes to play.
"He likes to get his hands on the ball and he likes to create. At times in that second half obviously the Blues were on the back foot. At times they had a quick play the ball and the halves didn't stand up and play.
"Once you get those quick play the balls you have to strike. They got bogged down and two negative. That is where Queensland were vulnerable."
Keary responded to Johns' criticism on Thursday with a classy message.
Keary has previously worked with Johns when he was a coaching mentor at the Roosters.
"His opinion, it'd be coming from the right spot. I know how passionate he is about NSW and the team winning," Keary told Channel 9.
"No, I don't take it personally at all. It's about the team and the state."
Now it is up to Cleary to respond to Johns' verdict.
Originally published as Joey backflips, gives Cleary the boot