Blues boys: Fittler shows faith in odd couple for Origin opener

Brad Fittler says the most unlikely of NSW halves combinations has to work after he paired Cody Walker and Nathan Cleary at No.6 and No.7 for the State of Origin series opener.

In terms of odd couples, they rate up there with the best.

Cleary has long been earmarked for superstardom, making his NRL debut as an 18-year-old in 2016. Walker turned out for the first time just a handful of weeks earlier, but by that time he was already 26. He won't hit the Origin arena until he's 29.

But as strange as their partnership seems, it also make sense.


Cleary won't take a back seat like he did to James Maloney and and will be told to run the show. Walker has flourished alongside a steady halfback in Adam Reynolds for South Sydney at club level, who kicks rivals into submission before Walker and Cook run them into the ground.


With Cleary by his side, Walker has the licence to play exactly as he does in the NRL.

On the unlikely combination, Blues coach Fittler said: "They’re going to have to [work together]. Naturally one plays a lot on the right and defends on the right and Cody defends on the left. I think that helps.

"Other than that they’re both really good footballers. You can tell they’re really passionate about football and they love the game. That’s the best start possible."

Walker's story is well told, but might be worth telling again.

He is sitting in the corner of a dark room waiting to find out if an ultrasound is about to tell him his first child is a boy or girl. There's a lot at stake. If it's a girl as his partner Nellie predicts, the baby will be born in Queensland where they're living. If it's a boy he gets to be a New South Welshman.

When the results come in, Walker is fist pumping in the corner. He will have a boy. So two weeks before Kian is born, Walker sends Nellie across the Tweed and gets her to stay with his parents in Lismore to ensure the baby is born a Blue.

It says a lot about a Walker, the rugby league yo-yo whose journey spans almost the length of the eastern seaboard. Every time you thought he was finally down and out in pursuit of finally cracking it in the NRL, he's always found a way to rebound.

Doubtless, in the next 10 days there will be a few photos flying around of Walker wearing a maroon jersey. He played for the Queensland Residents while trying to make it in the Melbourne Storm system.

Putting aside his unconventional rugby league road, Walker is a damn good footballer.

Save for Luke Keary's concussion on Friday night which ruled him out of the State of Origin opener, Walker might have been the best player in the NRL this season not to be at Suncorp Stadium on June 5.

He provides exactly what Fittler was banking on with Keary, an off-the-cuff and instinctive playmaker who will complement a steady hand at No.7. Wayne Bennett described him as one of the most talented players he's ever coached – and he's only been working with him for a few months.

"We’d been speaking about Cody for a long time," Fittler said. "You would be blind if you didn’t see the form he’s in and what he can do at the moment.

"We’ve got a couple of days to work out how we’re going to play. I don’t really know Cody Walker and I’ve only seen him at the games to say hello to. I’m looking forward to getting to know him."

Talent only takes you so far in Origin. Regardless of his age and maturity, no one really knows how someone will handle rugby league's most relentless arena in front of 50,000 Queenslanders until they actually have to do it.

The partnership with Cleary in the halves is intriguing. You could have written your own ticket at the start of the season on the odds those two would be the Blues No.7 and No.6.

Fittler has. And he'll live or die by the call.

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