NSW has taken out the State of Origin series with one game to play, but an injury to a key player could give fans reason for concern.
Nathan Cleary will go in for scans this week after injuring his shoulder in Sunday night’s second State of Origin match.
The Panthers and Blues halfback landed awkwardly on his right shoulder in the first half of the game but, remarkably, soldiered on and played the full 80 minutes.
It comes after Cleary picked up a nasty facial gash in the series’ opener.
Following game two, a 26-0 victory to the Blues, coach Brad Fittler said early signs indicated the injury was not serious.
“Hopefully his shoulder is alright. I got told initially that it’s not too bad,” the Blues supremo said.
Fittler, who played in the halves at Penrith at Cleary’s age, said he was impressed by the halfback’s form throughout the series’ first two games.
“He’s starting to learn how to deliver in big games,” he said.
“His preparation is unbelievable. And to do it under the duress of an injury, last game he got cut and that was a bit stressful.
“He’s done two big games now under a fair bit of stress.”
With strong performances at state level, Cleary has staked his claim to usurp Origin rival Daly Cherry-Evans as the Australian Test halfback for the upcoming Rugby League World Cup.
Pending the result of his scans, Cleary may be forced out of Penrith’s round 16 derby against Parramatta.
Should he be unavailable, Bulldogs-bound Matt Burton will likely shift from the centres to the halves.
With a five-day break between outings, Cleary’s Penrith Origin colleagues Isaah Yeo, Jarome Luai, Brian To’o, Liam Martin and Queensland centre Kurt Capewell will likely take their place in the Panthers’ 17 on Friday night.
The Blues cantered to a 26-0 victory at Suncorp Stadium on Sunday night, locking up the 2021 Origin series with one game in hand.
Remarkably, the Blues have yet to play on home soil this series, polishing off the Maroons in enemy territory in both encounters.
It was the first time in Origin history that Queensland had been held scoreless at Suncorp Stadium.
The Blues have the chance to record their first Origin clean sweep in 21 years, when Fittler guided the Blues to a 3-0 series win in 2000.