Gusty Cleary leads NSW to victory

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BRISBANE: Nathan Cleary etched his name into Origin folklore bravely playing with a suspected fractured cheekbone and laceration to lead New South Wales (NSW) to a 50-6 victory over Queensland in the State of Origin series opener in Townsville. Cleary had come into the Origin series with question marks over his ability to perform in big games after losing last year’s series and the NRL grand final, but the answer he emphatically delivered was all about his toughness. The Blues halfback was the victim of friendly fire when he headbutted Tom Trbojevic’s elbow as he attempted to tackle rampaging Queensland second-rower David Fifita in the 21st minute. Like Sam Burgess in the 2014 NRL grand final, Cleary pushed through the pain barrier and constant stream of blood pouring down his right cheek. It wasn’t until the 36th minute when referee Gerard Sutton finally ordered Cleary from the field under the blood rule after the NSW trainer couldn’t stop the constant bleeding running down his face. But by that stage, the writing was on the wall that the Blues were headed towards victory and Cleary’s composure had helped build the foundation for the win. Cleary returned to the field in the second half after receiving stitches at half-time and while it was Latrell Mitchell and Tom Trbojevic who stole the headlines, the half had his own moments of classy touches. Cleary set up Trbojevic’s third try in the 69th minute with a line break inside his own half to put NSW ahead of their previous greatest victory margin in a historic night for the Blues. By the end of the night his swollen cheek looked worse for wear but he still finished the game with one try assist and seven conversions in a brave performance. The serious concern now, however, is whether there is any fracture in his cheekbone and whether he will need to miss any NRL action for ladder leaders Penrith. The Panthers are due to play Cronulla at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium in Sydney tomorrow night but Cleary is unlikely to play even if scans today clear him of serious injury given the short turnaround. – NRL


Mitchell, Trbojevic star as Blues’ thrash Maroons

BRISBANE: Latrell Mitchell mastered, blasted and only needed a bit of backfield chewing gum to confirm his status as rugby league’s answer to Viv Richards. Yet for every moment of Mitchell brilliance, fellow New South Wales (NSW) makeshift centre of excellence Tom Trbojevic answered with his own magic and another Origin hat-trick as the pair tore Queensland to shreds in a record 50-6 triumph. Repeatedly the regular No.1s turned Origin centres found themselves linking in the backline and by midway through the second half, they were laying on tries for each other. Three first-half tries in nine blistering minutes set up the Blues’ biggest winning margin in Origin history — their 44-point thumping trumping the famous ‘hand grenade’ 56-16 victory of 2000. While Trbojevic roamed wherever he pleased — from left to right, first receiver to edge finisher — Mitchell produced the moments that mattered most when the game was still alive as a contest in front of a Maroon-washed 27,533-strong crowd. By the end of proceedings the pair finished with five tries between them on top of 14 tackle busts, three try assists and 376 running metres. By the time Trbojevic popped up alongside Mitchell on the left edge in the 48th minute it had simply become part of the regular programming, with the Manly maestro grubbering for Mitchell to score and put to bed any thought of a Queensland comeback. Not even Trbojevic’s teammates were safe from the destruction he left behind, with plenty of Nathan Cleary claret soaking into the Townsville turf courtesy of a stray Trbojevic elbow. – NRL


Cowboys coach Payten backs Broncos recruit Dearden
Tom Dearden training with teammates. – nrlpic

BRISBANE: Tom Dearden has been a Cowboy for just four training sessions, but coach Todd Payten has no qualms about bringing the halfback straight into the team. The 20-year-old former Bronco joined North Queensland after their round-11 win over the Warriors and began working with his new teammates during a bye week. He’ll make his club debut against the Sea Eagles tomorrow night, taking over the playmaking duties from Jake Clifford, who is now at Newcastle. “He’s a really polite kid, really respectful,” Payten said of Dearden. “We’ve manipulated our attacking points to take a little bit of the pressure off him, but his skillset and his talk and direction was pretty good, so I’m excited to see how he goes.” Dearden should benefit from partnering in-form five-eighth Scott Drinkwater. “That helps — I think if everyone else around him, it’s certainly going to make his transition smoother,” Payten added. “But he’s a very capable kid and he’s slotted in pretty well.” Meanwhile, young back-rower Heilum Luki has dropped out of the side for disciplinary reasons after a bright start to his career. The club declined to comment further on the issue. – NRL


Staggs cops K53,000 fine for pub incident

BRISBANE: Kotoni Staggs has copped a two-match suspension and a A$20,000 (K53,000) fine from the NRL for a drunken incident at a Brisbane pub in April. Sidelined with an anterior cruciate ligament injury since the end of last season, the Brisbane centre is finally fit to return to action for the Broncos. However, he’ll have to wait at least another fortnight with the NRL on Tuesday banning him until at least round 16. His return will hinge on the approval of NRL boss Andrew Abdo, who previously fined Staggs A$10,000 (K26,000) for using a homophobic slur towards a patron at a pub in Dubbo in February. The latest incident has caused Staggs and the Broncos more trouble. The 22-year-old was not charged by police but was accused of making unwanted advances towards a woman at a Brisbane pub over the Easter long weekend. After an investigation, including sourcing CCTV vision, the NRL’s integrity unit found that Staggs engaged in ‘disreputable conduct’.– 7 News


Hunt returns to NRL, partnering Kelly

BRISBANE: Karmichael Hunt is back in the NRL and the code-hopping star is confident he can prove to be a long-term asset for Brisbane. The former Broncos, Queensland and Australian fullback will partner Albert Kelly in the halves for Saturday’s clash with Canberra in his first professional rugby league game since 2009. The 34-year-old signed with Queensland Cup team Souths Logan earlier this year and says the aim was always to make it back to first grade. That goal ticked off, Hunt is eager to prove he still has plenty to offer the Broncos. “It’s never just for one game. It’s never just for a moment,” he said. “I felt like I belong at this level and I to want to be at this level.
“I feel like I’ve got some good years left.” After debuting for the Broncos as a 17-year-old, Hunt went on to enjoy careers in the AFL and rugby union following his departure from rugby league over a decade ago. Kelly and Hunt are the seventh, and the least likely, halves pairing for the Broncos this season as coach Kevin Walters continues to search for answers following a 3-10 start to the campaign. Having left Red Hill as a 23-year-old, Hunt admitted he was still coming to terms with being the old stager of the Broncos with teammates such as TC Robati revealing he’d been their boyhood hero in his previous NRL career. “Just hearing some of the years these guys were born makes me feel old enough,” Hunt said. “For me to be able to run out there at the age I am, at the age they are and the stage they are in their career, it’s a huge privilege.” – 7 News

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