Cleary sublime as brilliant Blues level series in Perth

The NSW Blues have squared the 2022 Origin series with a dominant 44-12 victory over the Maroons in Game Two at Perth's Optus Stadium.

Blues coach Brad Fittler made a number of changes after a first-up loss in Sydney and was vindicated as Matt Burton shone on debut and Jake Trbojevic was immense in his return to the Origin arena.

The series now heads to Brisbane for a decider on July 13 with NSW carrying huge momentum and Billy Slater's Maroons needing to regroup.

Six minutes into the contest it was Maroons flyer Selwyn Cobbo with a chance to open the scoring but he was denied by a great cover tackle from Brian To'o.

A penalty against Felise Kaufusi for a strip gave Nathan Cleary the chance to open the scoring and the Blues No.7 knocked over the kick to make it 2-0 after 12 minutes.

Cobbo again had an opportuntiy to score in the 16th minute when To'o made a mess of cleaning up a grubber but the young Bronco was unable to ground the ball.

Harry Grant's injection into the game in the 23rd minute had an immediate impact as he jumped into dummy half and ignited a right side raid which featured Ben Hunt, Daly Cherry-Evans and Kalyn Ponga, who delivered the final pass for Felise Kaufusi to score.​

Four minutes later the Blues hit back when Burton picked up a Cleary grubber and burst through Ponga's tackle to score. 

The speed of Ponga then came to the fore as he left Stephen Crichton in his wake and found Valentine Holmes in support and the centre delivered a perfect pass to Cameron Munster to put the Maroons up 12-8 after 31 minutes.

A huge turning point arrived in the 39th minute when Kaufusi was sin binned after repeated infringments in the ruck by Queensland and the Blues capitalised through To'o after slick hands from Cleary, Jarome Luai and Burton.

After leading 14-12 at the break the Blues extended their lead in the 50th minute when a spilled bomb by Murray Taulagi opened the door for Cleary to set up Daniel Tupou with a long cutout pass. The halfback's conversion made it 20-12.

With Cleary's kicking game coming to the fore the Blues turned the screws and his Panthers team-mate Luai hit the scoreboard in the 59th minute with a sizzling solo effort which left Jeremiah Nanai and Dane Gagai in his wake. 

In the 64th minute Cleary had his own moment of glory when he crossed for his first Origin try and the Blues were out to an unassailable 32-12 lead.

Cleary then took his own personal tally to 22 points with a second try and his sixth conversion as the Blues rubbed salt in the Maroons' wounds.

Roosters back-rower Angus Crichton joined the party in the 74th minute as the score hit 44-12.

Among of host of stars for the Blues it was Cleary calling the shots in grand style with two try assists, three tackle breaks, two line breaks and eight goals from eight attempts for a personal haul of 24 points.

Match Snapshot

  • Blues forward Cameron Murray left the field in the 10th minute for a HIA which he passed.
  • Felise Kaufusi's try was just his second in his 14-game Origin career, the first coming in Game 3, 2019 in Sydney.
  • Maroons prop Lindsay Collins left the field for a HIA in the 25th minute which he passed.
  • New Blues hooker Api Koroisau's first stint lasted 34 minutes in which he got through 24 tackles.
  • The Blues racked up 60 tackle breaks to Queensland's 25, James Tedesco leading the way with 12.
  • Kalyn Ponga was immense at fullback for the Maroons with 123 run metres and three tackle breaks before he was forced off for a HIA in the 71st minute.
  • Siosifa Talakai was introduced into the game for his Origin debut in the 63rd minute.
  • In two games at Perth's Optus Stadium the Blues have racked up 82 points to Queensland's 18.
  • Jake Trbojevic celebrated his return to the Origin arena with a herculean effort, making 31 tackles and running for 143 metres.
  • The Blues' back three of James Tedesco, Brian To'o and Daniel Tupou combined for 72 runs and 726 metres.

Plays of the Game

Two pinpoint Nathan Cleary kicks midway through the second half gave NSW the field position they needed to blow the game open through a superb solo try by his Panthers team-mate Jarome Luai. Cleary's first kick was an attempted 40-20 which Selwyn Cobbo retrieved deep in his own territory before the Blues No.7 pinned the Maroons in their own in goal with an inch perfect kick from 30 metres out. With fatigue taking its toll on Queensland, Luai pounced, beating Jeremiah Nanai and Dane Gagai to score the try that put the game out of reach.




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What They Said
“I think the biggest compliment you can get as a coach is if you make a few changes and decisions and they go out and do what they’re supposed to do. They all played really well and the blokes playing their first game, Burton and Siosifa, I thought they were fantastic. We’d acknowledged that we weren’t great, some people loss their position and we worked hard to make sure it wasn’t in vain. I thought Nathan read the game really well… I think by the end of the game Queensland were pretty fatigued so him and Jarome just took advantage and that’s what they can do, they do it at Penrith.” - Blues coach Brad Fittler

“To come out and play like that was really pleasing after a disappointing game one. We completed our sets, but I thought our defence in their end of the field was really strong and got us good field position and we made the most of the opportunities.” – Blues captain James Tedesco

"I think that first 50 minutes was a good contest but then NSW started playing with a little bit more energy than us. And then a loss of concentration crept into our game and we compounded that so that’s where it was decided. That’s our team… we’ll assess it but that’s our team that played tonight and that’s’ our team that’s been there the whole series.” - Maroons coach Billy Slater

“We put ourselves in some really tough positions, but I thought we were really brave to defend the way we did coming out after half time. Why we did have 12 men I thought we tried really hard. There’s a lot that we did wrong in that but there was also a lot they did right so somewhere in the middle there is the answer.” - Maroons captain Daly Cherry-Evans

What's Next
Players from both sides will head back home and prepare for Round 16 of the Telstra Premiership, starting with Manly and Melbourne on Thursday night, giving Cameron Munster, Felise Kaufusi, Harry Grant, Daly Cherry-Evans and Jake Trbojevic just three days to recover if they are to back up. The Panthers and Roosters play Friday night in a clash that could be heavily affected with 11 players from those two clubs playing in tonight's game.




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Martin Lenehan, Senior Journalist