Cleary addresses comparisons to JT

 

Comparisons with Johnathan Thurston may be premature but Queensland coach Kevin Walters believes it is only a matter of time before Nathan Cleary wears the NSW No.7 jersey.

Walters just hopes it is not any time soon.

Cleary has emerged as Penrith's dangerman after stepping up in troubled skipper Matt Moylan's absence to help the Panthers book a knockout NRL semi-final clash with Brisbane on Friday night.

His stellar rise has reminded many of another former Penrith teenager -- NSW great Brad Fittler.

Brisbane rake Ben Hunt paid Cleary arguably the greatest compliment before their sudden death clash, saying taking on the Panthers halfback was like "going into a game against Thurston".

Walters believed it was a bold call in Cleary's first full NRL season but claimed the 19-year-old was destined for representative honours.

"There is only one Johnathan Thurston for mine but for a guy his age he is doing some great stuff on the field," Walters said of Cleary.

"He's a quality player, he's got a calm head on his shoulders for a young player.

"And I thought his tactics (in finals win over Manly) were really good last week, kicking the ball early -- that sort of stuff wins big end of season games."

Walters may be sitting pretty after becoming the third Queensland coach to win his first two State of Origin series at the helm.

It marked the Maroons' 11th Origin series win in 12 years.

However, Walters sounded like an anxious man when asked about the possibility of Cleary making his Blues debut as soon as next year.

"I hope it is a long way away," Walters said.

"But on the progression that he is on, all things going the way they are he is going to play Origin at some stage.

"It is just a matter of when the Blues decide to pick him.

"It's not just his organisation, with the ball he supports well, kicks well, defends as good as any halfback -- he is quite a talent."

Ex-Broncos skipper Walters said Brisbane must overcome the Cleary factor in their knockout semi-final -- something he believed would be easier said than done.

"I think the Broncs can bounce back but they will have to be at their best to beat the Panthers," he said, referring to Brisbane's 24-22 qualifying finals loss to Sydney Roosters last week.

"They (Panthers) were pretty impressive on Saturday night with their aggression and their defence was exceptional to hold Manly.

"They have some improving to do against Penrith but I think they can do it."

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