Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary against Wests Tigers in Round 24.

Penrith's Cleary clearly something special

After yet another virtuoso performance from 18-year-old sensation Nathan Cleary, it seems clear that whatever Penrith do or don't achieve in 2016, inexperience won't be a factor in any of their shortcomings.

With one of the youngest rosters in the NRL, it is the teenage halfback who is guiding the side around with the guile of a 10-year veteran while displaying a defensive steel that evades plenty of NRL-calibre halves for the entirety of their careers.

His running game is already up there with any half in the NRL (helping him to three tries already in 11 games) and his goal kicking has proved a huge asset – and that's not to mention his dazzling array of passes and kicks that have been creating nightmares for opponents over the past three months.

After a night in which Cleary's towering floating bombs created havoc for the Wests Tigers backs, Tigers coach Jason Taylor conceded the youngster is "all class" while teammate Dallin Watene-Zelezniak admitted his relief at not having to mark Cleary's kicks in a Telstra Premiership game situation.

Watene-Zelezniak said he and the other Penrith backs do benefit from some quality practice in being forced to mark Cleary's monster bombs at training and said they are as dangerous as any he has faced.

"At training he does that for us so it gives us that practice and I'm going to say his kicks are some of the hardest I've had to catch," Watene-Zelezniak told NRL.com after his side's 40-10 trouncing of the Tigers at Pepper Stadium on Friday night.

"Not many people could do what he's done and what he's doing. He's absolutely killing it so he's doing really well, it's not an easy task for an 18-year-old coming in and doing what he's doing."

 


After his charges were on the wrong end of a Cleary masterclass, Taylor freely admitted the talented teenager was something special.

"All class, what he did tonight (Friday)," Taylor said.

"Obviously playing off the back of that roll that they had makes it easy for any halfback but he was very classy tonight. Very impressive."

Hooker Peter Wallace was measured in his praise of the young star but was happy that a team packed with youngsters is refusing to be overawed by the task of trying to continue to improve to book themselves a 2016 Telstra Premiership finals berth.

"We could easily have been a bit overawed there and I suppose been a bit nervous but 'Hook' (coach Anthony Griffin) did a really good job during the week just preparing us. To not put any pressure on us, just getting out there and playing so it was really good," Wallace told NRL.com.

"They're a good bunch of boys, although they're very young you wouldn't know the average age is 25 or something, they're a good bunch of kids so there is a bit of no fear but they're a very level-headed bunch of boys too."

He said it hadn't been a specific plan to target Tigers fullback Jordan Rankin with a series of bombs even though regular custodian James Tedesco was last week ruled out for a month with a broken jaw.

"We didn't plan to target [Rankin] but after he dropped that first one we just sort of kept going there and he had a bit of a tough night but he'll bounce back," Wallace said.

There has been speculation over whether rookie half and Junior Kiwi Te Maire Martin would return to the first grade set-up to partner Cleary now that he has recovered from a serious shoulder injury but the current form of the team would suggest rushing back another rookie half just in time for the finals would be unnecessary.

"I haven't seen much reserve grade. I know 'T', he's getting his confidence back so I suppose it will be up to Hook what he decides to do there. Obviously he'll be ready to go if he comes in but by the same token Carty's [Bryce Cartwright] doing a great job as well," Wallace said of Martin's chances.

But he agreed the current playmaking spine of himself, Cleary, five-eighth Bryce Cartwright and skipper and fullback Matt Moylan were combining well, which he put down to diligent preparation.

"We talk about our game, we've been preparing really well, talking about how we're going to play and what we're going to do with each other so I suppose that's the key to this time of year," he said.

"You've got to prepare really hard, you don't get as many sessions on the field, there's a bit more planning that goes on. We're preparing really well and I think that's showing on the field."