Titans to target whiz kid Cleary
He's an 18-year-old rookie threatening to derail their quest for a finals berth so Titans players are promising to turn up the heat on Penrith Panthers wunderkind Nathan Cleary when the teams meet at Cbus Super Stadium on Saturday.
After their 26-6 defeat of Newcastle last Saturday Gold Coast require just one more win from their final two games to secure a place in the top eight but face the prospect of having to go through either the in-form Panthers or Cowboys in Townsville in order to do so.
Since Cleary's introduction into the NRL team in Round 13 the Panthers have won seven of 11 games and are averaging 40 points from their past three games while conceding only 11, and the youngster's cool head has been lauded by some of the game's greatest players.
In a weekend of blockbusters for the penultimate round of the regular season, Gold Coast's assignment to shut down a rampant Panthers attack starts with putting pressure on the impressive No.7.
Since coming in for Jamie Soward, Cleary has become the primary kicker in general play for the Panthers and Titans prop Luke Douglas left no doubt as to the pressure that will be coming his way from Gold Coast's big men in the middle.
"As the middle guys, we need to get up and pressure him a little bit to play a bit earlier," Douglas said.
"We'll be talking him up, trying to get him off his game.
"Pressure him to play a bit earlier and hopefully that will give that time for the outside backs to release and form up their line."
With five-eighth Bryce Cartwright patrolling the right side of the field for the Panthers Cleary generally takes responsibility for organising the left side with Isaah Yeo and Tyrone Peachey on his inside and outside.
In-form Titans back-rower Chris McQueen will be lining up opposite Cleary on the Titans' right edge and has promised to also get up in his face and try to pressure him into error.
"That's something that we talk about, it's everyone's responsibility," McQueen said of the kick pressure coming from the Titans.
"If the kicker ends up in front of you, get at him and put some pressure on him.
"Everyone will be taking that opportunity to get that pressure on him."
Like almost everyone in the NRL, McQueen has been nothing but impressed by Cleary's emergence this season but also was quick to praise the efforts of the Titans' own rookie halfback in Ashley Taylor.
Taylor, who was rested from the 26-6 win over the Knights, is considered the front-runner to be crowned Dally M Rookie of the Year but is copping plenty of late heat from Cleary.
"He's not playing like an 18-year-old," McQueen said of Cleary.
"He's playing like someone who has been there for years so that's going to be a big job for us and our right edge, to shut him down and minimise his time and shut down his opportunities.
"It's going to be a great match-up. Cleary has been playing great footy and I think Ash has been going just as good. It's going to be a great battle.
"[The week off is] going to be great for [Taylor]. He's still only so young and this is his first full season of first grade so to give him that week off and be able to rest his body a little bit I think he's going to be better for it."