Nathan Cleary’s hopes of playing for NSW in Game II of State of Origin hinge on the outcome of scans on Monday after he limped out of Penrith’s 26-18 win over St George Illawarra.
Cleary, who was part of the Blues side that lost the series opener in Adelaide, pulled up in pain after just 15 minutes at Penrith Stadium.
Penrith are hopeful the halfback has suffered a “low-grade” strain but it leaves the prized number 7 in severe doubt to face the Maroons at Lang Park on June 21.
“I’m not a doctor, but it’s a significant injury,” Panthers coach Ivan Cleary said.
“We’ll get it scanned tomorrow so we’ll learn more but I think he’s very unlikely.
“If he’s ready, I’d love him to play Origin. But it’s gunna be one of those injuries, it’s a soft tissue injury so you can either play or you can’t really.”
Nathan Cleary is critical to Brad Fittler’s plans as the Blues fight to save the series in Brisbane for the first time in Origin history.
“It’s tough to speculate on the seriousness of it before he’s got scans,” NSW adviser Greg Alexander said in commentary for Fox Sports.
“But looking at those images, I guess everyone at Penrith is trying to be as positive as possible and hoping it’s low-grade. I’m hoping [for] the same thing.”
Fittler and Alexander would likely plump for Cronulla’s Nicho Hynes, who made his Origin debut from the bench on Wednesday, with Parramatta’s Mitch Moses and Brisbane’s Adam Reynolds possible understudies.
Cleary looked to have no signs of rust from the Origin opener, setting up winger Brian To’o with a floating cut-out pass in the 11th minute after a Zac Lomax penalty.
“I guess when you back players up there’s always a bit of a risk, but he showed no signs of anything,” Cleary said.
Just after the halfback pulled up sore, Mikaele Ravalawa crashed in at the corner for the Dragons.
The Fijian winger added a second in the 38th minute with Lomax also nudging another penalty to keep the scoreboard ticking over for the Dragons.
Jack Cogger, who was brought on to replace Cleary, found To’o with a pinpoint cross-field kick on the stroke of half-time with the winger’s effort converted by Stephen Crichton.
After half-time, Crichton added a penalty and what followed was an end-to-end battle between the reigning premiers and the bottom-placed Dragons for the next 20 minutes.
There was a heart-in-mouth moment when Penrith’s NSW five-eighth Jarome Luai rolled his ankle but he was able to play on.
The rhythm eventually broke when touch judge Wyatt Raymond flagged for a knock on by Dragons winger Mat Feagai with Sunia Turuva touch down on the hour mark.
Lomax pegged Penrith back after lock Jack de Belin was knocked out cold from the restart but a Moses Leota try got the Panthers back in front with 10 minutes left.
Crichton converted Leota’s try to re-establish a six-point buffer and added a last-minute penalty to ensure the Panthers of victory.
Cowboys blitz Storm
North Queensland kept its season alive with an emphatic victory over the Melbourne Storm at home that featured a hat-trick to club debutant Semi Valemei.
Neither side could be split after the opening 40 minutes with the score locked at 14-14, but it was North Queensland who came out desperate and firing in the second half to roll in five tries to the Storm’s one.
Valemei bagged his third of the afternoon three minutes into the second half before his other winger Murray Taulagi extended the lead back to double digits.
Nick Meaney’s chip and chase to himself lowered the deficit to six again as the Storm hung tough, but then the Cowboys hit their straps and fell into a rhythm not seen thus far in 2023.
It began with a spread left from midfield as Valentine Holmes accelerated onto a ball from Scott Drinkwater before passing out to Taulagi for his second try.
Jeremiah Nanai ran a hard line off Drinkwater’s shoulder for a try on his return from a four-match suspension, then when Peta Hiki enjoyed a rare break down the right edge nine minutes from time, his grubber found skipper Chad Townsend for North Queensland’s eighth.
Townsend added a field goal just before full-time as the Cowboys enjoyed a complete rout of the Storm just two weeks after losing 66-16 to Wests Tigers.
The Cowboys had a number of stand-out players, with Reuben Cotter immense in midfield after his player-of-the match performance for Queensland in State of Origin I.
The 16th-placed Cowboys flew out the blocks and dominated the early stages for a 10-0 lead following two tries from Valemei.
The Storm weathered the onslaught and threw plenty of traffic at the Cowboys’ left defensive edge, finally cracking some points when Xavier Coates beat two poor attempted tackles to score.
The Cowboys soon hit back when the Storm coughed up the ball inside their own half, with Tom Dearden finding fullback Drinkwater, who sneaked a ball out to Holmes for their third.
Justin Olam crashed over and Meaney added a penalty on half-time to level scores, but the Cowboys took control in the second half to end a two-match losing run.
Tedesco stars in Roosters win
James Tedesco has bounced back from a disappointing State of Origin performance to guide the Sydney Roosters to a tense win over Canterbury.
The Roosters and the Bulldogs went blow-for-blow at Central Coast Stadium and it was Origin players from both teams who stood out.
After playing catch-up all game after dropping two tries early, the Roosters finally took the lead thanks to a Luke Keary field goal in the 74th minute.
But the afternoon belonged to Tedesco, who helped the Roosters hold off stiff challenges from his NSW teammates Josh Addo-Carr and Tevita Pangai Jr.
Tedesco’s form has been under fire this year for the first time in his decorated career but the Roosters captain answered the club’s distress call, helping halt a three-match losing streak with a first-half double and a try assist.
Keary scooted past Max King and Karl Oloapu and passed off to Tedesco, who had a second try when a flying Corey Allan kicked inside five minutes later.
Tedesco could have had a first-half hat-trick but for an obstruction before setting up the third try up when he burst through the middle on a line break after half-time.
Pangai Jr had a point to prove after an underwhelming match in his surprise Origin debut and set the tone for the visitors by pouncing on a Matt Burton grubber kick for the afternoon’s first try.
He finished with a team-high 191 run metres.
Addo-Carr was the Bulldogs’ best, first dashing away on the line break that gave his side their second try.
He kept the Bulldogs in the fight in the second half, capitalising on Trent Robinson’s decision to shift Joseph-Aukuso Sua’ali’i to the wing.
Addo-Carr twice beat the Wallaby-in-waiting for second-half tries, the first of which came after he dashed 80 metres down the left flank on a scrum play.
The Roosters again equalised at 24-24 after a controversial try from Sua’ali’i, who went over untouched on the right side while Bulldogs centre Paul Alamoti reeled on the ground with what appeared concussion symptoms.
Keary sealed a desperately needed win with his field goal that keeps the Roosters in touch with the top eight.