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State of Origin: Andrew Johns insists Nathan Cleary is a BETTER halfback than he was at age 24

Andrew Johns insists Nathan Cleary is a BETTER halfback than he was at age 24 as Blues No 7 brings in one of Origin’s ‘greatest performances of all time’ to take the series to a Brisbane decider

Nathan Cleary made his name in State of Origin folklore with a performance for the ages that led New South Wales legend Andrew Johns to claim the superstar halfback is a better player than he was at the same age.

Cleary, 24, made an unusually muted appearance for Brad Fittler’s side in Game I earlier this month, with five-eighth Queensland Cameron Munster leading the show in Sydney.

The Panthers star came in for criticism as a result, and he arrived in Perth with a point to prove in the Blues’ do-or-die clash at Optus Stadium.

Nathan Cleary delivered one of the great State of Origin performances on Sunday night

Nathan Cleary delivered one of the great State of Origin performances on Sunday night

And the No. 7 star made it clear in no uncertain terms that he is the best halfback of his era, setting up two tries, scoring two himself and scoring a perfect eight from the tee to give Queensland constant grief on Sunday .

Rugby league hasn’t seen such an inspired individual performance since Johns’ Origin masterclass in 2005 and the man himself admitted that at the age of 24 there has been no better halfback than Cleary.

“No other halfback at his age has played a game like this in Origin,” he said of Nine.

He added as the attack unfolded in front of him in the second half: “There was a lot of criticism after Game 1… only early in his career as a representative.

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The pistol halfback scored two, set up two and kicked eight off the tee in a huge win

New South Wales legend Andrew Johns said Cleary is the best halfback of his age ever

New South Wales legend Andrew Johns said Cleary is the best halfback of his age ever

“I think it was tough. But he rushed on it. He has been exceptional. Cleary gives a master class.’

Phil Gould added that Cleary’s showing was one of the great individual Origin performances of all time.

“I think tonight’s second half was one of the great halfback performances in Origin history,” he said.

“It’s one of the best of all time there at what he’s done in that period. In the first half he was a bit hectic and back and forth trying to find something. A kick to Burton sparked him and suddenly he started tearing up Queensland.”

Phil Gould also described Cleary's performance as one of the best Origin has ever seen

Phil Gould also described Cleary’s performance as one of the best Origin has ever seen

The Panthers superstar scores one of his two tries in a second half attack in Perth

The Panthers superstar scores one of his two tries in a second half attack in Perth

The New South Wales legend drew comparisons between Cleary’s “historic performance” and Johns’s in 2005.

“A historic individual achievement,” Michael Ennis told Fox League.

“I haven’t seen a more dominant individual performance from a New South Wales half since Andrew Johns in 2005…it was incredible from Nathan Cleary.”

Blues captain James Tedesco also glowed in his praise for his team-mate after Sunday’s impressive win.

“There was unjustified criticism (from Cleary) after the first game. But it shows what a champion he is,” captain James Tedesco, who also praised Matt Burton and Jake Trobjevic for Game Two calls, told Nine Network.

“He comes out in Game Two and sets up a clinic with a lot of pressure on him. He’s a great player.

‘It will be a test at Suncorp (Stadium). It will be packed. Queensland fans against the wall. We will enjoy the win tonight and then look at the next game.”

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