Written by Oliver Kellner-Dunk
Nathan Cleary is coming off of a sublime return for the Penrith Panthers where he put on a kicking masterclass against the Parramatta Eels last Friday night.
His efforts now see the Panthers just one game away from the 2022 NRL Grand Final.
Cleary was suspended back in round 20 for a dangerous tackle on Eels five-eighth Dylan Brown in a game where the Panthers went on to lose 34-10 so it was fitting that the halfback’s return also occurred against the Eels where he was able to help his side get revenge as Penrith won 27-8.
This stunning display from Cleary has put him ahead of incumbent Australian halfback Daly Cherry-Evans to be the first string number seven for the Kangaroos in the minds of many.
However, the eighth immortal Andrew Johns is not convinced as he advocated for Cherry-Evans on Freddy and the Eighth.
“I think Daly Cherry-Evans deserves to be the halfback after his Origin series,” said Johns.
“Daly is the incumbent, we haven’t played for a couple of years. I think he deserves first shot at it, and captain.
“Both of them will go.
“Before Origin I thought Nathan will be there, but after Origin – particularly in game three – (Cherry-Evans’) performance I thought ‘well he deserves it’.”
Cleary’s New South Wales State of Origin head coach Brad Fittler then interjected and of course gave his thoughts on why he believes Cleary is the man for the job.
“I think Nathan, his consistency – if I was a coach – week in, week out he is at least an eight (out of 10),” said Fittler.
What may help Cleary’s case is the fact that no matter what his team will have gone deep into the NRL finals series off the back of his efforts while Cherry-Evans side the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles failed to even qualify for the finals after finishing in the top four last season.
For now, Cleary will be focused on facing either the Cronulla Sutherland Sharks or South Sydney Rabbitohs in two Saturdays’ time in a Grand Final qualifier that could see the 24-year-old play in his third NRL Grand Final which would put him above Cherry-Evans for Grand Final appearances.