The secret behind Cleary’s epic evolution

Charles Darwin didn’t have NRL halfbacks in mind when he came up with his theory of evolution, but Panthers superstar Nathan Cleary is a living, breathing example of how the fittest survive, and it’s why he’s on track for rugby league immortality.

The 25-year-old is about to play in his fourth grand final in a row as the Panthers look to become the first team in 40 seasons to win three first-grade premierships on the trot.

It’s an almost unthinkable scenario in the salary cap era where talent is meant to be thinned out at the top, but while the Panthers have lost so many stars, Cleary remains and has pulled the strings perfectly in what might be his best ever year.

This is the same player who threw a pass that was intercepted in the 2020 Grand Final that could have haunted him forever but has instead inspired him to never let it happen again.

And his meteoric rise is no accident with Cleary developing new weapons in his running and kicking game to mess with the rest of the competition, much like the fire-breathing Bowser did in an attempt to defeat the pesky Super Mario in classic Nintendo games.

“You’ve got to keep growing. If you stay the same then people work you out pretty quickly like they would with Bowser if he wasn’t evolving,” Cleary said ahead of Sunday’s grand final showdown with the Broncos.

“That’s an important thing to do, but it’s a journey.

“You’ve got to adapt to the game. Even from last year to this year, the game style has changed with what’s working and what’s not.

“Confidence has played a big part for me over the past three years where I’ve been willing to try things and trust what I’m seeing.

“That’s been the biggest development of my game since I debuted, but that confidence comes from working hard and my preparation.”

While some players talk about hard work, the two-time premiership winner lives and breathes footy from the moment he walks in to the Panthers Academy at the crack of dawn all the way until the sun has set and there’s no one else around him.

“The big difference between Nathan and everyone else is the way he trains because he’s always the last one off the field,” teammate Stephen Crichton said.

“Everyone probably thinks his field goals in big games are flukes, but us Penrith boys watch him after every training spend 10 minutes kicking them from 50 metres out.

“That’s why we know when we get to a big game that he’s going to get the job done.

“He’s the ultimate professional who’s always doing video so his mind is clear in the games.

“Not many people see what he does, but it’s crazy what he does when the lights go off here after training.”

The NSW and Australian halfback is the favourite to win his second Clive Churchill Medal to go with his 2021 award that came 12 months after Penrith’s heartbreaking loss to the Storm.

A lack of experience hurt the Panthers that night with their rep star throwing a long ball that was picked off by Suliasi Vunivalu and returned for a try that ate away at him for months.

That moment doesn’t define Cleary who has lost just eight club games since that night and is on track to shatter every major record available, but he looks back at that game as an important lesson that has shaped his career.

“My experiences from a young age have helped me, particularly my failures,” he said.

“I’ve been lucky enough to experience that at a young age and learn ways to deal with it and learn ways to deal with outside noise which is probably something I didn’t handle the best early in my career.

“I think that all sets you up to get the best out of yourself.

“I don’t think there’s a successful person that hasn’t gone through some failures and learnt from them. I think that’s the most important thing because you’ve got to assess what went wrong and grow from that.

“I think it’s easy to look back to the 2020 Grand Final or Origins in the past where I haven’t played well, but it’s been a journey from the start when I debuted when I was 18.

“I’ve constantly been trying to take information in and learn as I go. I’ve made mistakes along the way both on and off the field, and I think it’s trying to grow from that.”

While his defence has never been an issue, Cleary’s attack has been questioned at times – particularly in the State of Origin arena – with critics calling him out for being too structured.

He’s addressed that over the years with the gun halfback producing one of his finest performances in the first week of the finals when he set up a try with one boot on and scored a stunning solo try in the big win over the Warriors.

“Part of it was being able to learn from the outside noise and not let that affect my game, but also learning about my own game,” he said when asked about the ongoing criticism.

“The majority of time, criticism is warranted, but I’m also critical of myself. I’m trying to assess my own game and grow from that, and I’m still doing that to this day trying ways to try to get better.

“That’s the beautiful thing about rugby league. It’s not a black and white game where you’re always going to have it down pat. Every game is different and there are lots of grey areas and lots of areas to get better in.”

On the flip side, there are those who say Cleary is destined to be an NRL Immortal when he retires and that a third title in a row would have him in the same conversation as Andrew Johns or Johnathan Thurston as the greatest ever No.7.

High praise can be just as daunting for a player whose career has been in the spotlight since he debuted as an 18-year-old, but Cleary has worked on ways to deal with it as he continues to shine brightest in a team full of stars.

“Earlier in my career, people were complimenting me when I first came in because I came in as a young kid and was going all right, but then it flips pretty quickly,” he said.

“A lot of the time you get the compliments, it’s so people can build you up just so they can drag you back down.

“Another thing that I’ve learnt is that if you read too much into the compliments then the negative comments will affect you a lot more so you’ve got to stay on that equilibrium of what you believe in yourself and what you believe of the opinions of those close to you.”

It’s why he didn’t bite when asked if a win against Brisbane would make Penrith the greatest team of the NRL era, with Cleary content to let his footy do the talking.

Originally published as ‘People build you up just so they can drag you back down’: Inside Cleary’s evolution to become the game’s greatest

Source link

Source: News

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *