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No panic for Cleary but top-four window closing fast

Nathan Cleary will use the valuable experience he gained in his second year of first grade in 2017 as a catalyst for getting Penrith back on track after a shaky start to the season.

The Panthers were struggling with just two wins and seven losses in 2017 before charging home with 11 wins in their next 13 games to finish seventh on the Telstra Premiership ladder.

Of the 2017 squad that played under former coach Anthony Griffin, 15 players remain to tell the tale.

While a fifth to eighth-place finish, their fourth in as many seasons, isn't what the Panthers set their sights on before a ball was kicked, realistically they're leaving themselves little margin for error in their quest for a top four spot.

Mathematically they'll need to win 14 of 17 games based on last year's figures to break into the top four, while 12 victories should have them making the top eight.

"A couple of seasons ago we were 2-7 and definitely weren't playing like we were now," Cleary told NRL.com.

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"We were playing some ordinary footy then, were all over the place and were getting out of jail with a lot of performances. I feel like it's a bit different now. We're playing some decent footy but just need to find the final plays.

"There's confidence in the group to turn it around and we've just got to do it quick."

Penrith will take confidence from last Friday's 22-18 loss to South Sydney after pushing last year's preliminary finalists to the 80th minute.

If not for the Bunnies' gritty defensive display, Ivan Cleary's men could have easily recorded their third win of the season.

"That's the best game we played all year but a couple of missed opportunities didn't help," Nathan Cleary said.

"I needed to be better when I missed that tackle on the Cody Walker try in the second half and that just killed us.

"He's a freak of a player, bloody hard to tackle and it showed that. He's on fire."

With talk of State of Origin selection beginning to intensify, Cleary felt his combination with incumbent Blues five-eighth James Maloney finally clicked after six rounds of mixed performances.

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He added the inclusion of Wayde Egan at starting hooker had also made a healthy impact to the halves' continuity.

"Jimmy and I found each other well and again that comes back to the luxury of some quick play the balls," Cleary said.

"I think it did help a lot that the middles were going forward, you get a lot more time and space. I think we can keep building on that. I think that's the first game we've got some quick play the balls for it to work and Wayde showed what he can do as well.

"We just need to get on the back of that and form that combination. It was a step in the right direction."

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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