Cleary eager to step up for Panthers

Ed Jackson
Nathan Cleary feels ready to step us as a leader at Penrith next NRL season

Captain or not, Penrith halfback Nathan Cleary wants to take on added leadership at the NRL club in 2020.

Veteran playmaker James Maloney's departure to Catalans Dragons places extra on-field responsibility on Cleary's shoulders but it's a situation the 21-year-old welcomes.

"Obviously Jimmy's a pretty hard person to replace. Not only is he a great footy player but he's great to have around, a great leader as well," Cleary told AAP.

"This year I see as a big opportunity to try and take the next step forward, not only in my footy but also as a leader of the team too.

"I'm still young but it feels like I'm one of the more experienced guys now so I think it's good timing to really take that next step forward.

"It comes with a lot of responsibility but I'm looking forward to the challenge."

Cleary was elevated to the Panthers' leadership group by coach and father Ivan Cleary in February.

However, he says he's in no rush to seek the captaincy, which has been held by prop James Tamou since round five of the 2019 campaign.

"If it happens, it happens. It's obviously a great honour to take it on board but I can't see that far in the future yet," said Cleary, adding the fact he'd have to convince his father to give him the captaincy wasn't a factor.

"When the time's right, the time's right.

"I look at dad now at training and he's just the coach and when I'm at home obviously he's dad. It's good to have that mix now and it's kind of comfortable."

Having undergone off-season surgery on a damaged toe, Cleary's primary focus is on his recovery as he aims to be fit and firing post-Christmas for a return to training.