Revealed: Why Freddy wants Cleary as No.7
Brad Fittler's plan to play Nathan Cleary as NSW's No.7 in game two on Sunday night has left many scratching their heads - but the data backs up the Blues coach's faith in his young playmaker.
While his ongoing Origin selection has divided the state - and been seriously questioned by the likes of South Sydney coach Wayne Bennett - The Daily Telegraph can reveal the numbers Fittler is using to justify his ongoing faith in the 21-year-old.
According to data compiled by Blues staffers during the series opener at Suncorp Stadium, Cleary topped the list for most involvements (67), most supports (23), most ground covered (9.5km) and largest workrate (120m/min).
Elsewhere, the Penrith playmaker also finished second to only Tedesco on an inhouse rating system which measures 'quality involvements', and carries huge weight with Fittler.
The results mean that while plenty of other numbers have made headlines this past week - including the halfback's failure, in four Origin appearances, to earn a try, try assist, linebreak or linebreak assist - his competitive efforts are keeping him in the side.
Only last week, Bennett questioned how the Blues coach could keep faith in the Panthers playmaker and not Souths No.6 Cody Walker, who was dumped after struggling in his Blues debut.
Yet Fittler and his brains trust remain adamant Cleary is made for the Origin arena.
"Freddy is a massive fan of work ethic, it's a big part of how he picks his sides," explained NSW performance coach Hayden Knowles.
"And nobody epitomises work ethic better than Nathan Cleary. Honestly, he's the hardest working 21-year-old I've ever met. And that effort he brings to games, it's how he trains too.
"It's something I get to see it every single day working (as head performance coach) at Penrith.
"That, and the respect he gets from his teammates. It's the same here at Origin level.
"People want to play alongside him because of all those quality involvements he has in games.
"I know it's something a lot of people miss, but Freddy doesn't miss it."
Nor the NSW support staff.
"And have a look at Freddy's assistants," Knowles continued. "Guys like Craig Fitzgibbon, Danny Buderus, Andrew Johns … every one of them understands the value of work ethic, and it's why they love Nath.
"In Origin I, he not only ran for 9.5km - more than any other player - but covered that ground at 120m per minute. That's huge.
"And within all that is a lot of support stuff, a lot of off the ball work and a lot of defensive efforts that Freddy and those guys really value."
While Cleary is already noted for his workrate at NRL level, his output in the opening Origin game was vastly superior again, including his running for 1km further than any other NSW player.
This year, the Panthers halfback averages 49 involvements per game. Against Queensland in Origin I though, it rose to 67 involvements.
Elsewhere, his NRL average of 13 supports per game also was significantly higher, at 23, while his 18 tackles per game were also almost doubled.