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Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary.

One day, but not just yet.

Nathan Cleary is taking a patient approach to the question a fair few Panthers fans are asking: "Do you want to captain Penrith?"

The Panthers are yet to name their 2020 captain after James Maloney and then James Tamou took on the roles for the first and second half of the 2019 season respectively.

"I think Jimmy [Tamou] did a really good job last year in tough times … he'd be deserving captain at the moment," Cleary said.

But what of his own ambitions?

"Definitely one day, but I'm not sure when.

"I've kind of been taken into the leadership role, especially the last 12 months, and it's a lot more complex than I first thought.

"I've learned a lot about myself and how to work with others but there's still a long way to go. I'm lucky I've got some senior guys here to learn off so hopefully one day."

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One tutor has left in the shape of Maloney.

"It is a big void without him, everyone has been speaking about that. But I think us as a team are in the right kind of space to move forward from that," Cleary said.

"Jimmy has been awesome for me and awesome for the rest of the team, especially the younger guys. He's left his mark on this team and that will go forward for however many years."

Allowing Cleary a little more freedom around his football also happens with the obsession of the  father-son relationship being scaled down a fair bit.

"There is already a lot less focus on it. Last year was pretty hectic with how it happened," Cleary said of Ivan Cleary's coaching switch from the Wests Tigers to the Panthers.

"I think me and Dad have found the right balance too. Around here he's the coach and we have conversations about footy and at home it's pretty much as my dad. There is complete trust both ways."

Cleary is entering his fifth NRL season – he could well play his 100th game – so by now he should be comfortable in running the show.

"I'm definitely in the best position to do so now. I've had to run the team in the past but you don't realise how much there is to learn. Even now I think I'm only halfway to the knowledge I need," Cleary said.

"But I've learned a lot in this last 12 months. That's probably where I've learned the most – the ups and downs of footy and how to deal with setbacks. I'm a good position to take the next step forward."

Tipped as contenders last year, Penrith finished 10th after 11 wins.

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Cleary is the only Panther in Brad Fittler's NSW Blues squad this season but Penrith's next generation is in the state coach's sights with Matt Burton, Spencer Leniu and Liam Martin in the Emerging Blues squad.

Is the goal of finals football now harder after losing the likes of Maloney, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Waqa Blake, and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak?  

"Not really. We've got a few Kiwis boys and Capes (Kurt Capewell) is in the Queensland squad. It doesn't concern me much in the way individual accolades and achievements are good, it's the way you play as a team," Cleary said.

"We're trying to build that at the moment – teamwork, communication and things like that. Things we weren't great at last year."

Acknowledgement of Country

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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