'Carried them': Panthers ace backed after grand final shocker

Andrew Reid
·3-min read
Pictured here, Nathan Cleary looks dejected after his Penrith side lose the grand final to Melbourne.
Nathan Cleary had a game to forget in the grand final against the Storm. Pic: Getty

Nathan Cleary may be blaming himself for Penrith's NRL grand-final loss but his NSW teammates have backed him to bounce back in Origin I next Wednesday night.

The 22-year-old Panthers halfback was in tears in the sheds at ANZ Stadium after Sunday night's heartbreaking 26-20 loss to Melbourne.

Penrith's halfback - third in Dally M voting and named by his peers as the NRL's best player in 2020 - saved arguably his worst game for last in Sunday's decider against the Storm.

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The most crushing moment for Cleary was his looping cut-out pass that was intercepted by Storm winger Suliasi Vunivalu, who ran the length of the field to score.

He was also burned by Ryan Papenhuyzen, who ran from his own half to score a sensational solo try for Melbourne in the 45th minute.

Papenhuyzen also punished Cleary for an attempted kick for touch off a penalty, leaping into the air and batting the ball back into play, in a spectacular momentum-swinger for the Storm.

The 22-year-old was particularly hard on himself after the match, taking much of the blame for Penrith's loss.

In nine days' time he will be NSW's State of Origin halfback, acting as the senior playmaker for the first time at representative level.

"I can't let it sting for too long," he said.

"I'm lucky enough to be able to play some footy now to try and put it behind me.

"But it will definitely sting for the next few days."

Despite calls from some quarters to drop the playmaker for Origin I, his Blues teammates have thrown their support behind the star.

"He was (Penrith's) best player all year and it was disappointing how it went down, but he's a young kid and I'm sure he'll get into camp and get around the boys and be ready to go," NSW fullback James Tedesco said.

"I haven't (spoken to him) but I really felt for him.

"He was obviously really disappointed but he was the best player all year for them and for the whole NRL.

"He shouldn't be too hard on himself but I think the way he developed and took Penrith to the grand final, he pretty much carried them there.

Seen here, Nathan and dad Ivan Cleary after Penrith's grand final loss against Melbourne.
Nathan and dad Ivan Cleary's record season with Penrith ended in heartbreak. Pic: Getty

"He'll obviously be really disappointed but I'm keen to get him in and talk to him and catch up with him."

Five-eighth Luke Keary is pushing to make his Origin debut in Adelaide next Wednesday night alongside Cleary.

The Roosters star spent time in camp with the Blues in 2018 and got to know Cleary well enough to know he can recover from the disappointment quickly.

"He's a good kid and everyone sees the maturity from afar and he's very calm headed, he's very mature for his age so he'll bounce back," he said.

with AAP

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