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Cleary kicks his way into the record books

In a season where records seem to be tumbling on a weekly basis, Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary can now lay claim to two of the biggest kick-metre hauls ever recorded.

On Friday night against the Rabbitohs, Cleary's right boot repeatedly sent the Steeden into the stratosphere, causing no end of headaches for the Bunnies' back three.

It netted him 844 kick metres gained – the biggest tally of the year, the second biggest of the past decade and the fourth biggest on record since detailed statistics have been kept.

Earlier this year Cleary also booted a whopping 810 metres against Brisbane – the only other 800-plus tally this year and the seventh-biggest total on record. 

Top of the pops is Dragons legend Jamie Soward, arguably the most notable long kicker of the modern era, who once drove the ball a stunning 923 metres against the Titans in 2010 and has a separate effort of 818 in 2009 against the Eels also in the top five all-time figures.

Coming in at second is Eels halfback Mitch Moses, who did his best to boot his team out of trouble in a big loss to Cleary's Panthers in round 18 last year.

Eels skipper and fullback Clint Gutherson knows both what it is like having to deal with Cleary's towering bombs as well as watching from the back while Moses does the same to opposition backs.

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"It's huge; obviously, we're lucky to have Mitchy and he's got one of if not the best kicking game in the comp," Gutherson said.

"We rely on that so heavily as all teams do [on] their halves to kick well. Nath just as much – he chucks these new floaters up that are extremely hard to catch, but as fullbacks and wingers, you've got to catch them and that's all you've got to worry about.

"But they're inventing the kicking game again and they're doing it great."

A surprise entrant at third in the biggest kick metre hauls of the NRL era is former Roosters and Rabbitohs playmaker Craig Wing, better remembered for his dynamic running game than long kicking game but who nevertheless punted 869 metres in the 10th-last game of his NRL career in a struggling Souths side in 2009.

Cooper Cronk (twice), Scott Prince and Darren Lockyer are the other names in the top 10, with each recording 800-plus tallies between 2006 and 2010.

A curious anomaly of the kicking distance list is that after a flurry of 800-plus totals in the years up to 2010, it didn't happen at all for a decade but we have now seen three of the top seven totals ever recorded in the past 18 months.

One factor is that both Cleary and Moses are powerful and prolific kickers and another is the altered rules increasing ball-in-play time and reducing the appeal of touch finders, making deep kicks to the corner the best outcome on yardage clearances.

However, this is not borne out across the competition, with the average kick metres per team per game jumping from 520 in 2019 to 556 last year before reverting back this year to 517 – just below 2019 levels.

Sadly, Stats doesn't keep records on kick height, because it is likely Cleary's round 23 aggregate would come out on top as he repeatedly sent towering torpedoes into Brisbane's night sky.

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Penrith centre and back-up half Matt Burton – the owner of a prolific boot himself – praised Cleary's return in helping his side assert some more dominance of late.

"He's a great player and brings a lot of leadership and direction to the side," Burton said.

"It gives us a lot of freedom on the edges. Our middles are doing a great job at the minute getting the ball out the back to him.

"It frees us up on the edges so we love having him back. The confidence he brings to the side is massive. It's great to have him back out there."

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