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NRL fans have taken aim at the decision to award Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary the Clive Churchill Medal after a number of stats emerged from the grand final.
Cleary took out the Clive Churchill Medal as the man-of-the-match in what was a gripping final game of the NRL season.
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Yahoo Sport Australia gave Cleary the highest player rating score after his kicking game and calm head helped steer the Panthers to grand final success.
However, many viewers took to social media to point out some of Cleary's defensive mistakes during the penultimate game could have cost the Panthers.
Cleary missed nine tackles throughout the match.
One included the crucial miss on Rabbitohs star Cody Walker as he fended off the halfback and raced through for a try.
Others claimed Matt Burton, workhorse Isaah Yeo or fullback Dylan Edwards should have received the award.
But, of course, there were plenty of fans complimentary of Cleary's brilliant kicking game that pinned down South Sydney for large parts of the game.
The @NRL Clive Churchill Medal isn’t given to the best player in the #NRLGF anymore just the player with the biggest name.. just like JT in 2015 for the @nthqldcowboys Nathan Cleary didn’t deserve that tonight.. @PenrithPanthers Yeo? Burton?
— John Morris (@morrfit) October 3, 2021
Nathan Cleary wins Clive Churchill for missing tackle for Souths first try and failing to get up in the line causing the second try. Oh and he kicked a lot #NRLGF
— B Andrews (@BA_Sports32) October 3, 2021
Nathan Cleary is the best player in the competition but I thought any of Burton, Edwards and To’o were unlucky to not win the Churchill.
— EyeTea (@EyeTea2204) October 3, 2021
Nathan Cleary could have sat on the bench the whole game and won the medal, love fest for Nath… To’o was best on for mine #NRLGF
— Justin Mccoy (@jmccoy17) October 3, 2021
Nathan Cleary, and I'll tell you why:
His kick chase was the best I have ever seen in a grand final, they were pinpointed to come down before the line every time. 5 forced drop outs from bombs is unheard of! You take his boot out of that game and Penrith lose.
— 𝖀𝖓𝖑𝖚𝖈𝖐𝖞 𝕷𝖚𝖈𝖎𝖆𝖓𝖔 (@EYEamSLEDGEND) October 4, 2021
Nathan Cleary wasn’t even in the top 5 panthers players tonight #NRLGF
— Koz (@MatthewKosarew) October 3, 2021
— Paul Johnson (@pjohnson_sports) October 3, 2021
How did Nathan Cleary win it? #nrlgf
— thesportingadventuresofjonotay (@thesportingadv1) October 3, 2021
Clive Churchill 😳😳 To the rest of the team why bother turning up 🤷♂️🤷♂️🤷♂️ #Joke
— Terry Zarsoff (@Terryzarsoff) October 3, 2021
nathan cleary is undisputably a talented player but in all honesty there were probably some better candidates for the clive churchill medal tonight #NRLGF
— tyler ✨🧚♀️🙈🌼 (@tylerbrooke__) October 3, 2021
Fittler talking up Cleary for basically keeping his first half involvement to kicking. Ffs. This is going to be daylight robbery of the Churchill Medal. #NRLGF
— Tim Findlay (@TimFindlay) October 3, 2021
Regardless of what the pundits thought, Cleary won the award and is already pathing his path to greatness.
The Penrith co-captain still has potentially a decade at the top level ahead of him, despite being 23 years old, but has a resume to suggest he's on track to become an all-time great of the game.
As well as his premiers' ring and Clive Churchill Medal, Cleary has appeared in four State of Origin campaigns for NSW, twice finished runner up in the Dally M medal count and was last year's RLPA Players' Champion.
"It's special. It's not about us but it's special," Cleary said.
"A lot of people wrote us off but now to do it it's crazy.
"I have been dreaming of this moment since I was a little kid.
"I was so grateful to play one NRL game and then to win a grand final is crazy, to do it with dad and the people I've grown up with is special."
Nathan Cleary receives huge praise from legend
Panthers legend Greg Alexander was one great that saved some special praise for the young halfback.
Alexander also alluded to Cleary's shoulder injury, which he carried into the game, which made his performance even more special.
“Nathan Cleary made some crucial tackles at the death there in that final five minutes,” Alexander said on Fox Sports commentary.
“To do what he’s done, with one arm is just ... I can’t even explain what he’s gone through and the fact that his one arm is just hanging off his body. It’s just strapped together. To do what he did tonight ... the kicking game of Nathan was superb.
“... The tendon was torn 80 per cent so it was just hanging. They tried cortisones (injections) to try and sort of shock it into some scar tissue, to strengthen it a little bit, but I don’t think much of it worked. He just strapped it up and got on with it.”
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