Fittler Says Nathan Cleary In Contention For Origin Spot

Plenty in the running

Fittler Says Nathan Cleary In Contention For Origin Spot Getty Images

Brad Fittler has laid down the challenge to Nathan Cleary and James Maloney, hinting they can demand State of Origin selection by guiding Penrith to the top of the NRL ladder.

After a stellar 2017, Cleary, 20, is firmly in contention to take the NSW No.7 jumper off Mitchell Pearce this year.

He was a part of the NSW Emerging Origin squad in December and if everything goes to plan, should forge a formidable combination with incumbent Blues No.6 and new Panthers halves partner Maloney.

Fittler wouldn't be drawn on whether he will prefer club combinations like predecessor Laurie Daley but said Cleary and Maloney had been presented with a golden opportunity.

"His combination with Jimmy, if Penrith are sitting at the top of the comp, who knows," Fittler said.

"The one thing Jimmy does do, if you want to listen, he'll talk."

Fittler said all bets were off and every spot in the 17 was up for grabs after three successive Origin defeats to Queensland.

Cleary is seen as one of the leading contenders for a NSW halves spot alongside Maloney and Parramatta five-eighth Mitchell Moses, who worked with Fittler during Lebanon's World Cup campaign.

After two successful seasons at Cronulla, Maloney has moved to the foot of the mountains as part of a player swap with Matt Moylan.

Fittler said Cleary's ability to force his way into the NSW backline would depend on Maloney and their club combination.

"I was out there watching them train the other day and they looked sharp," Fittler said at the launch of the Hogs for the Homeless charity motorcycle run.

"Jimmy coming off the World Cup, I don't think his season last year was fantastic, I think he can improve on that then Penrith can do better as well.

"Nathan, for his age, he's an incredible listener so he can (learn) a lot off Jimmy."

Pearce has a challenge in front of him to retain his Origin spot following seven series losses in seven attempts.

Fittler said he remained in the frame and it would depend on how he reacted to life at new club Newcastle.

"It'll be interesting. (Pearce) has got some good teammates around him, some young players, Connor Watson and Brock Lamb and Kalyn Ponga, he's got a lot of players to work with," Fittler said.

"I think everyone is interested to see how Newcastle go."