Nathan Cleary will face his biggest test on Friday night at Suncorp Stadium, and I for one am backing him to pass with flying colours.
In front of a large, baying Brisbane crowd against a team desperate to prove they are worthy title contenders, Cleary will steer the Panthers around the park and line up the goalkicks that can be crucial in tight finals matches.
For most 19-year-olds this would be an extremely frightening prospect, however Cleary appears to be well-equipped with the manner and personality to handle it.
Brisbane hooker Ben Hunt, no stranger to the halfback position himself, even compared him to Johnathan Thurston this week.
“He’s so young but look at what he has done in the game already. It’s not going to be hard for him to get to the heights of Thurston,” Hunt said.
— NRL (@NRL) 12 September 2017
One might assume he has inherited an ice-cool persona from his dad, and current Wests Tigers coach, Ivan.
Cleary Senior could be best described as a quality consistent first grade fullback/centre for the Sea Eagles, Bears, Roosters and Warriors with a cool head. His career goalkicking success rate finished up at around 77 percent.
Ivan literally went straight into coaching after retirement, occupying assistant coach roles before taking over as head mentor at the Warriors. From there he has forged a reputation as a ‘fix-it man’ at clubs having difficulties, while also maintaining good relationships with players, media and fans.
You only had to see him operate in Wests Tigers press conferences this year in front of media looking to continue to sink the boot into a club described as a ‘basket-case’ both on and off the field.
His cool, calm and measured approach has reversed the media criticism and given fans hope for the future.
Nathan, like his dad, has given has given fans an opportunity to dream of premiership success. At Penrith he has done everything that could be possibly asked of a teenage half and much more.
He takes the right options, has a good short and long kicking game, and nothing seems to phase him, including intimidatory tactics from opposition forwards.
Cleary Junior is the top point-scorer in the NRL with 226 points, compiling 11 tries and 91 goals with a success rate of 90 percent, emulating a feat that his father managed in 1998, topping the competition with a then-premiership record 284 points for the Roosters.
To top it off, Nathan is a rugby league marketer’s dream with classic good looks and proving articulate in interviews. I have no doubt he will appear in NRL campaigns of the future.
— Penrith Panthers (@PenrithPanthers) 3 September 2017
There are a number of halfbacks that have been hailed as the ‘next big thing’ by experts in recent times and haven’t lived up to the hype bestowed upon them in their debut NRL season.
Those same experts have criticised the “lack of involvement” or “poor decision-making” of these heirs to the throne once occupied by the likes of Andrew Johns, and currently filled by Jonathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk.
For the last decade, NSW fans and the media have lamented the lack of halfback talent south of the Tweed while the Maroons seem to produce talented playmakers at will.
Nathan Cleary is being touted as an Origin star of the future and the man to bring pride back to NSW rugby league.
Whether he is ready for the biggest arena next season is debatable, though a late of options aside from the maligned Mitchell Pearce could see him get the call-up.
If the Blues’ selectors are unsure whether he is up to it yet, maybe they could give his dad a call.
— The NRL Footy Show (@NRLFootyShow) 13 September 2017