Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary could lead a ‘superpower’ team for the next half a decade, according to Andrew Johns.
Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary has taken his game up a gear this season and could lead a “superpower” team for the next half a decade, according to Newcastle legend Andrew Johns.
“He’s gone to another level,” Johns told Wide World of Sports Immortal Behaviour.
“Halfbacks come into their best time around 26 … but he’s only 23. Where he gets to in that time, and the players around him at Penrith, I just hope they all stay together. That could be a superpower for four, five, six years.”
Cleary was all over the field for Penrith last night, playing a starring role in a game that hung in the balance with a few minutes left.
“Yeah, he’s clutch isn’t he?… He held us together tonight,” teammate Kurt Capewell said after Penrith’s 20-12 win over Brisbane, where Cleary banged a 45m field goal and then scored a try to seal the match.
He also set up a try and kicked brilliantly all night, including a 40/20 attempt that bamboozled Xavier Coates on Brisbane’s right wing.
Johns said that kicking game and the organisation had been present since Cleary’s first grade debut in 2016, but it was the other strings to his bow that had made him stand out further.
“What we haven’t seen from Nathan is the out-and-out creativity like a [Cameron] Munster, like in game three of Origin when Munster was doing stuff, taking risks, kicking on play one,” Johns said.
“You don’t really see that from Nathan, but you’re starting to see it. He’s starting to go away from the structure and play more ad-lib … that’s the next development.”
Johns said he wasn’t necessarily needed to create with the brilliant Jarome Luai outside him, but that he was adding that to his game at the right moments anyway.
“I’m seeing him starting to create. Where he gets to in the game, it’s frightening if he stays injury-free, because you can see how much he loves it.”
The plaudits rolled in for Cleary after last night’s game, as the Panthers extended their remarkable regular-season winning streak.
Johns said Cleary’s mind was as important as his physical gifts, and that his mental strength was also helping him lift his game beyond what we’ve seen in past years.
“I thought after Origin One last year in Adelaide, I thought maybe he needed to be rested because he’d been on such a rollercoaster with the grand final and then losing game one. But then he comes out in game two and is man of the match, so it just goes to show our mentally tough he is,” Johns said.
“He’s a special player, we all can see that.”
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