“If I’m being honest with myself I don’t deserve it at the moment,” Cleary told the Herald at his Brisbane hotel when asked about playing for NSW. “There are people in my position who are playing a lot better. NSW is lucky in that regard to have depth there.
“It’s hard to go past Luke Keary, he can play No. 6 or No. 7, he showed that in the grand final, and he’s the form player in the whole comp. It’s hard to go past him.
“There are still three games to go, hopefully I can put in some better efforts for this Penrith team, which is my job and what I need to do.
“I’ve been focusing too much on the result and everything else instead of playing the game and what I can do well.
“I’m not in great form, it’s frustrating, but I’m working hard each week to better myself and get back into the form I know I can.”
Maloney had no idea if he would be back at Suncorp Stadium in a month and quipped: “You’ll have to ask Freddy’ [Brad Fittler].”
Unlike his 21-year-old Penrith and NSW teammate, Maloney is used to the intense speculation about Origin selection, and was this time last year rated a chance to be overlooked.
Malojey has an incredible knack of standing tall in the big games for his club, state and country.
“The only thing we can do is get a few wins for Penrith, the rest is out of our control,” Maloney said. “If you’re picked in that [Origin] arena you wat to be confident in you’re footy going into it. If you can put three wins on the boards, that’s a big positive.”
While Keary has plenty of support, there has also been a gradual push for South Sydney’s Cody Walker.
Blues legend and Cronulla captain Paul Gallen this week said he hoped selectors stuck by the Panthers halves, but they needed to show something over the next three rounds.
If one playmaker had to survive the chop, Gallen hoped it was Cleary.
“In the past 13 or 14 years in Origin we have won two series, and how many halfbacks have we used? Twenty? Twenty-five?” Gallen said.
“Queensland have probably used half that. I think at some stage we have to stick solid with someone, and I think that is probably Cleary.”
Penrith’s hopes received a boost with Kikau cleared of an ankle injury, despite hearing a “pop” in his ankle last Saturday in the loss against Canberra. Raiders forward Elliott Whitehead also heard the sickening noise.
“But it turns out the scar tissue from an old syndesmosis was aggravated again,” Kikau said. “The doctor said the only thing I’d have to deal with was pain. I went through some fitness runs on Wednesday, then got through the captain’s run fine. There will be no painkillers.”
As for his good mate Blake being dropped, Kikau said: “We’re always on ‘Fijian time’ when we rock up to training.
“He mis-read the schedule, he thought it was 9.30am, not 8.30am. I had a chat with him, we’re really close, and I told him, ‘this is nothing, we need you back in this team more than anything, clear your head and we’ll see you next week’.”
Christian covers rugby league for The Sydney Morning Herald.