Cleary could be the next Thurston: Hunt
Brisbane Broncos hooker Ben Hunt has praised young Penrith Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary ahead of their clash on Friday night, saying the 19-year-old is on track to reach the heights of North Queensland Cowboys halfback Johnathan Thurston.
It is a huge compliment from Hunt, with Thurston regarded as one of the greatest players in history after achieving almost everything in rugby league.
Cleary, who is playing in just his second year of NRL, is arguably better than Thurston was at the same age, with Thurston then playing off the bench for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs.
Playing first grade at such a young age is an achievement in itself, but Cleary has already asserted himself as one of the form halves of the competition, guiding the Panthers to the finals and creating history in the process.
 Cleary Nathan - Panthers
The local junior this season became the youngest player in NRL history to score 200 points in a year, and if the Panthers' run continues late into September then he may reach 250.
His ability to score and set up tries is up there with some of the game's best, and that is why Hunt and his Broncos teammates are treating him the same way as they would Thurston.
"It's like you're going into a game against Thurston. You just have to prepare the best you can and work together as a team defensively to try and maintain him," Hunt said.
"He's so young and look what he's done in the game already. I think it won't be hard for him to get to the heights of Thurston.
"I think he's proven to everyone this year that he's a world-class player and he's done it for a whole season. He's not patchy or inconsistent.
"He's a fierce competitor and a great player in how own right. His biggest thing is that he's been consistent all year. He plays with such a cool head on his shoulders."
Cleary currently sits on 226 points for the season, scoring 11 tries of his own and converting many more to comfortably lead the competition in individual points scored.
He has set up almost as many tries as he has scored, leading Penrith for try assists with 10 for the year.
There is no doubting that he is the leader of the Panthers' attack – a fact not lost on Hunt who will be looking to pressure Cleary as much as possible while defending at hooker.
"I think a lot of teams have tried pretty hard to try and stop him this year [and failed]. He's shown how good of a player he is," he said.
"It doesn't matter what you do, he will find a way around and find a weakness in your defence.
"We just have to prepare the best we can to shut him down and get up on him quick to limit his opportunities."