AAP Rugby

Tamou feared Cleary would be NSW scapegoat

By AAP Newswire

James Tamou feared Nathan Cleary would become NSW's scapegoat having watched Mitchell Pearce suffer the mental scars that come with State of Origin failure.

Penrith halfback Cleary is hoping to be fit for the Origin decider in just under a fortnight after going down with an ankle injury in the Blues' resounding game two win.

While Penrith medical staff expect Cleary to be sidelined for a month, Cleary is refusing to rule himself out, and Panthers board member and NSW advisor Greg Alexander said his chances shouldn't be discounted.

Tamou said he was crossing his fingers for his Panthers teammate, saying Cleary had been barrelled by criticism following NSW's game one loss and deserved to be there as Brad Fittler's side pushed for a series win in Sydney on July 10.

"I think Nathan should be there for what he's copped," Tamou said.

"He's put his heart into that team ... I got that feeling around game one where they were already making (Cleary) a scapegoat.

"I know all those boys have got his back, that's why he's there, they know he can do the job."

Tamou said that while taking the field was a risky proposition for Cleary, he backed him to push through the pain.

Pearce on Tuesday put his hand up for an Origin recall, however Cronulla back-rower Wade Graham shapes as the most likely replacement having starred when filling in for Cleary in the second half of game two.

Tamou played 12 games for NSW from 2012-16 at the height of Queensland's era of dominance and saw first-hand the way Pearce was singled-out by critics.

And he said he had feared that Cleary would be similarly targeted if NSW surrendered the shield to the Maroons.

"I feel for Mitchell and everything he copped in that team," Tamou said.

"I'd like to see him there and hopefully lift the shield.

"Poor Mitch for what he copped, it sort of changed him mentally. He went through a bad stage there.

"That's what it does to you, those things change you. He's in very good form so hopefully he can be there."