Cleary: There’s more to halfback than numbers
NSW halfback Nathan Cleary has come under fire for his poor statistics so far in 2019, but the playmaker admits his game has never revolved around filling key categories on paper, and it doesn't bother him.
And the NSW halfback reckons some of his naysayers will never understand that.
"I don't think people will ever get it. Being a halfback, everyone just expects (numbers) and that's fair enough for them," Cleary tells AAP.
Cleary is arguably the player under the most pressure when the Blues attempt to keep the State of Origin series alive in Perth on Sunday.
Not that the 21-year-old is feeling any of it.
"I haven't really thought about pressure too much leading up to this game. Obviously it's a massive game and the biggest one I've had so far," he says.
"There's no second chances for us."
Some believe he's had more than enough opportunities.
Critics hit out when the Penrith star kept his spot for game one despite the Panthers languishing near the bottom of the NRL table this year.
And they were again astonished when he retained his jumper for Origin II.
Chief among their complaints is a perceived lack of creativity at club level, where he has recorded just five try assists and six line break assists in 13 games.
In four Origin matches, he's also failed to tally in either category.
"I don't think I've ever been a halfback that's put on a heap of try assists or line break assists, even in my younger ages," Cleary says.
"I've never been that creative X-factor. I'm always the one that will work hard and do my job for the team to allow the X-factor in the team to work their magic."
A quick look across his first three years in the NRL back up his case. The likes of Bryce Cartwright and Matt Moylan have all shined alongside him at Penrith, while James Maloney was largely credited for last year's Origin triumph.
Maloney, who was overlooked for game one, is now back riding shotgun in Perth.
"Especially in a team like this, there's Cookie (Damien Cook), Teddy (James Tedesco) and Jimmy (Maloney) in the spine who are really creative," Cleary says.
"If I can get us around the park and put us in positions where they can do their magic, then I'll be happy with that.
"At the end of the day, stats don't mean a whole lot to me.
"The only stat that really matters is the win or loss."
Cleary, who has enjoyed one-on-one tutorials under Blues champion Andrew Johns after each session this week, likened his game to Cooper Cronk.
The Sydney Roosters veteran has one more try assist and one less line break assist than Cleary this year, albeit in three less games.
"Cooper's obviously the definition of a general," Cleary says.
"He does get a lot of try assists, and a lot of them are from pinpoint kicking which is something I'm still working at.
"There are times in games where I could just be a bit more perfect I suppose and try assists will come from that. That's still a work in progress."
The Blues had a day off on Thursday but return to the training paddock on Friday before the captain's run on Saturday.