Cleary the match-winner after highly-emotional week
Penrith's match-winning halfback Nathan Cleary has admitted he had to endure perhaps the toughest week of his career before showing nerves of steel to snatch a 17-16 golden-point victory over the Gold Coast Titans on Saturday.
In one of the Panthers' ugliest wins of the season, the 20-year-old recovered after missing an easy conversion in the shadow of the full-time siren, then a drop-goal attempt that hit the cross-bar to be a hero in a performance that NRL rookie coach Cameron Ciraldo "pinching" himself at Cleary's maturity and ability under pressure.
Hours after his father Ivan Cleary announced he was honoring his Wests Tigers contract after days of hysteria of the Cleary family future, the NSW Origin half reiterated what integrity and focus is in league's family off the moment.
"I didn't think we were playing well enough, to their credit they are just a talented group and they pulled it out at the end there and I am so glad to the bloke sitting next to me for him to win it for us after the week he's had, not of his own doing," Ciraldo said.
"The way he has handled himself this week, I couldn't be prouder of him and I'm just so happy that he had the chance to win us the game and he nailed it."
Cleary said the start of the week was "pretty crazy" during the fall-out of Panthers coach Anthony Griffin's sacking, plus the speculation Ivan Cleary was set to take over next year.
"It was alike a massive bombshell hit; my wrong-doing at the start off the week was that I was on social media too much and I was reading too much rubbish," he said.
"Halfway through the week I spoke to 'Ciro' [Ciraldo] and made the decision that I couldn't look at social media too much.
"Me and mum were both doing it too much. It was hurting mum; she was reading stuff she didn't want to see and we made a resolution to get off it and not really read that stuff and really focus on this game.
"That's my job. I'm a professional and I owe it to this team to get out there and play well. I wasn't very happy with my performance but I was very happy that we got away with the win."
Cleary said he didn't know that his father had planned to put the rumors to bed in a media conference on Saturday morning but was obviously relieved he did.
"I knew he had to do a press conference, because he told me during the week. It was game day today and I just wanted to focus on this team and getting a win for us; I don't even know what he said."
When asked if it was the toughest week of his career, Cleary said: "It was up there."
"At the start of the week my head was just a whirlwind. I could barely sleep, there were so many thoughts going through my head.
"I am really lucky with the coaching staff we've got and the players we've got. As soon as I walked into training, it was like I was home. It is like my second home, I love all the boys out there. It just made it easier to focus on football out there."
"To get away with that win was a pretty special one."
Ciraldo, who has a close relationship with his young halfback after being part of his progression in Panthers lower grades, said he was in awe of Cleary's maturity.
"You just have to pinch yourself and remember he's 20," he said.
Penrith five-eighth James Maloney had some poor moments in attack and defence, before making the game-saving try in the 79th minute with a left-hand shift on the final tackle.
He went down just on half-time with a knee injury and although he finished the game, he is due to undergo scans on Monday.