Moment Blues star’s Origin dream was shattered
The TV crews were focused on David Klemmer's arrival in NSW camp to replace suspended forward Tariq Sims. The big Knights prop was the lead story. Or so everyone thought.
On a small patch of grass on North Bondi beach, where English backpackers peel their skin in summer and wrinkled polar bears dry off in winter, Nathan Cleary put his right ankle to the test.
It was just after midday on Wednesday when, in the space of five minutes, a 21-year-old's Origin dream of going back-to-back with the Blues was shattered.
Ninety minutes earlier, Cleary had slipped past TV cameras beginning to mill outside the QT Hotel in Bondi - home for the Blues until Wednesday night.
The TV crews were focused on David Klemmer's eventual arrival in camp to replace suspended forward Tariq Sims. The big Knights prop was the lead story. Or so everyone thought.
With NSW physiotherapist Liz Steet and NSWRL head of performance Hayden Knowles, Cleary took a car ride to Moore Park.
He had an appointment with the Sports Medicine Clinic at the Entertainment Quarter. Inside the clinic is an anti-gravity treadmill.
Used by NASA, the treadmill referred to as an Alter-G allows athletes - and astronauts - to move unrestricted and to run freely without any load on the lower body, in this case Cleary's sprained ankle.
Cleary began running with the pressure dial at 70 per cent of his body-weight being pushed onto his ankle.
But so good was he feeling, the halfback quickly flicked the dial to 80 per cent, then 90 per cent and finally the full force of his 92kg body weight.
He gave Street and Knowles a thumbs-up as he bounded forward.
With confidence high, Cleary was then told to step next door to the office of respected sports physician and Blues team doctor, Dr Nathan Gibbs.
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Gibbs had Cleary hop on one leg. Cleary obliged. He told Cleary to hop again and again. Again, Cleary gave the thumbs-up.
In the back of Gibbs' mind was Fittler's training schedule - in particular, the two most critical days of the Blues entire Origin III preparation - Thursday and Friday.
The entire purpose of Cleary's Wednesday fitness test was because Fittler needed to know if his halfback would be right to start training with the Blues at 10am on Thursday.
The coach couldn't risk Cleary missing the crucial "attack" session and then waking on Friday in the hope that the ankle would be ready to fire.
There was simply, too much on the line. So with the treadmill test box-ticked and Gibbs' bunny-hop pass mark, Cleary, Steet and Knowles hit the road back to North Bondi.
On the way, Knowles phoned Blues gear steward Paul Sironen to ask for a football. Fittler was waiting on the grass patch next to North Bondi Surf Club when Cleary and the Blues staffers arrived.
The footwork drills included Cleary stepping right, stepping left, holding a footy as he shoved his ankle into a position of pressure and pain. He did it. But it wasn't perfect. D-Day was over in the space of minutes.