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Keep Latrell in Origin race: Nathan Cleary

3 minute read

NSW halfback Nathan Cleary doesn't believe Latrell Mitchell's long-term injury should rule him out of contention for an Origin jersey.

LATRELL MITCHELL.
LATRELL MITCHELL. Picture: Matt King/Getty Images

NSW halfback Nathan Cleary says Latrell Mitchell's lengthy injury lay-off shouldn't preclude him from selection in game three of State of Origin.

Matt Burton and Stephen Crichton played in the centres in NSW's Origin II victory but coach Brad Fittler could be tempted to reshuffle the pairing now that Jack Wighton and Mitchell are available for selection.

Wighton missed game two after contracting COVID-19 but Fittler declared him NSW's best player in the series opener, while Mitchell scored four tries and averaged 150 metres playing centre in the 2021 series.

Crichton and Cleary play together at Penrith each week and were teammates of Burton before he joined Canterbury, but Cleary said he would happily work alongside any of the four centre options.

"With those four centres, I'm confident that anyone that gets put there would do a really good job," he said.

"I'm glad I don't have to pick a team. It's a tough one."

A hamstring injury and a bout of COVID-19 have kept Mitchell sidelined since round five but he will make his return for South Sydney against Parramatta on Saturday.

Fittler will name his team just one day later but Cleary said Mitchell could do enough in one game to prove worthy of selection.

"Latrell is a freak," Cleary said.

"There's not another player in the NRL who is like him and who can do what he can do.

"I'm looking forward to seeing him play and seeing how he goes.

"I think with Latrell, if you put him (in the Origin team), you know he's going to have a big game."

Burton had a dream debut for NSW and helped ease Cleary's kicking load, which wore him down in the Blues' game-one loss.

Cleary said the pair had perfected their chemistry playing for the Panthers.

"We've got a good understanding of each other's games," Cleary said.

"You saw his kicking game (in game two) too, so that's obviously a good foil. 'Burto' is just a great player."

Cleary scored two tries and set two more up in game two but the Penrith co-captain said his man-of-the-match performance would count for little in the decider on July 13.

"What happened in game two means nothing now," he said.

"It's obviously a good foundation to build off but we've got to start again."

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