You have skipped the navigation, tab for page content

Nathan Cleary is arguably the best player in the game right now and is comfortably the form No.7 but he says despite his improvement this year he is nowhere near the finished product.

Still just 22, Cleary will play the 100th game of his five-year career in the grand final if Penrith beat the Rabbitohs on Saturday.

Some of his star qualities have been on show since his 2016 debut, a tough 24-6 loss to the Storm in Melbourne when the then-18-year-old was forced to make 38 tackles.

A calm head, a powerful boot, one of the best defensive techniques of any halves player in the Telstra Premiership have been mainstays of his 98 NRL and four Origin games for NSW.

The knocks on him were that he lacked the ball playing and game management skills of the more experienced halves but those are things that come with age.

Match Highlights: Panthers v Roosters

The Panthers of 2020 have reaped the value of Cleary's experience as he guided the young side to a minor premiership and a preliminary final berth.

Cleary has been asked regularly about the secret to that improvement and even now he struggles to describe exactly what has changed.

"I can't pinpoint it – I guess it just comes with experience," Cleary said.

Clutch Cleary gives Penrith an edge

"You can't really buy experience and I'm lucky to have been able to play this many games so far. Apart from the start of this year it hasn't been too disrupted, I've been able to put games together.

"Just learning more about the game, learning more about myself, what works, what doesn't."

Cleary's numbers in attack are career-best figures but don't really capture the impact he is having for his team.

His 15 try assists in 19 games is easily his best, beating the 10 in 26 games in 2017, while his 507 kick metres per game is also easily his best and the most by any player in the NRL this year.

More impressive though is the time Cleary seems to have to make decisions, slowing up before the line with ball in hand before hitting the gas, accelerating towards contact or firing a long pass or kicking skilfully behind the line.

"I put an emphasis on my ball playing," Cleary added.

"I think I've still got a long way to go but I think it's definitely improved. Little subtleties, stuff like that. It's good to improve on last year but I still feel like there's a long way to go so I'm enjoying that journey."

Cleary humbly – yet accurately – credits the good form of the men in front and outside for his own improvement. Halves partner Jarome Luai has 22 try assists to trail only Sharks star Shaun Johnson (23) in the competition.

Every try from finals week 2

"You look at my teammates around me, they're all in such good form. It's made my job so much easier," Cleary said.

"Jarome playing five-eighth has been killing it and dominating that left side, Dyl [Edwards] at fullback has been on fire then the middles and Api [Koroisau] as well."

One of the key battles to decide Saturday's preliminary final will be that of the five-eighths - Luai's seven tries gives him 29 try contributions, equal most with Cody Walker (10 tries and 19 assists).

Then there were four …

"Cody's been playing some unbelievable footy, he's an absolute freak," Cleary said.

"He's got that whole edge humming. Us as a right edge will have to be on our A game and defend really well. If we do that it will give us a massive chance of winning."

While Cleary and Walker will be foes on Saturday, they were halves partners in Origin I last year and could well be again come November 4.

"He's an awesome, genuine bloke," Cleary added.

"I got along with him really well and really enjoyed playing alongside him. He's got so much natural talent but understands his game really well. I love watching him play too, he's an absolute freak. Some of the stuff he pulls off is pretty crazy."

He joked that the pair of chatty five-eighths could well butt heads during the game.

"It wouldn't surprise me if they come together and started grabbing each other's jerseys," he laughed.

"They're both pretty cheeky on the field and playing some pretty good footy.

"Romey has definitely been underrated throughout the whole year, he's probably been our best player the last six weeks. It's only really his first full year so some of the stuff he's doing is amazing."

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.

Premier Partner

Media Partners

Major Partners

VIEW ALL PARTNERS