Ivan Cleary drops truth bomb on son Nathan over 'obvious' State of Origin issue

The Panthers coach believes Nathan Cleary needs to improve at State of Origin level.

Pictured Nathan Cleary left and Ivan Cleary with Nathan right
Ivan Cleary believes his son Nathan needs to improve at State of Origin level. Image: Getty

Ivan Cleary believes his son Nathan needs to improve at State of Origin level if he is to be considered one of the best halfbacks to ever play the sport. The Panthers coach says the No.7 has had an illustrious career to date but his game still has a way to go for both club and state.

In particular, he believes Cleary's performances for the Blues need to be more consistent after an up-and-down career for New South Wales. "He's looking to improve. I know he can improve. He’s only 26, he’s had all that experience under his belt which he’s been able to use to his advantage," Cleary told The Daily Telegraph.

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"But he’s far from the finished product. He knows that. Probably the obvious one is Origin, he knows he wants to be more consistent in that area. He’s had some good moments, but in other moments he knows he can step up there, or prove. Probably the whole team can, but he definitely can. He’s still trying to work it out."

Cleary was heavily criticised following Game I last year, as the Blues' attack faltered. After the match legendary halfback Andrew Johns labelled the side's offence "terrible". NRL reporter Michael Carayannis went even further, slamming Cleary's State of Origin career, saying he is fortunate to not be more heavily criticised.

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 31:  Cameron Murray and Nathan Cleary of the Blues react during game one of the 2023 State of Origin series between the Queensland Maroons and New South Wales Blues at Adelaide Oval on May 31, 2023 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Nathan Cleary was heavily criticised following State of Origin Game I last year, after the Blues' attack faltered. Image: Getty

"He was woeful (in Game I of the 2023 series) and if that was Mitchell Pearce or Mitchell Moses, people would be shouting from the rooftops calling for his head," Carayannis told SEN last June. "Cleary didn’t man up and he is one of the Blues' big game players.

"He just failed when they needed him to deliver. He will be picked for Game II but his performances in Origin for mine have been very underwhelming. He hasn’t grabbed a series and if you matched him with his record on Daly Cherry-Evans, Cherry-Evans (has outplayed him). They had a lot of ball and a lot of territory (but) the criticism needs to be on the one in the seven (jersey)."

As a result of injury, Cleary did not play in Game II or III, instead Mitchell Moses stepped into the side. The Blues were hammered 32-6 in game two but bounced back to win 24-10 in game three, however, ultimately lost the series.

The Panthers halfback is aware his Origin performances need to improve and gave an honest assessment of his Blues career to date before last year's series. "It’s been a rollercoaster, but that’s what rugby league is," Cleary said about his State of Origin career. "There have been some great moments and some not-so-great moments, so I’m just trying to deal with that and learn from the past and apply that to the future to get better."

Panthers desperate to secure World Club Challenge glory

While a stronger Origin showing in 2024 will be front of mind for Cleary, the more immediate challenge lies in helping Penrith to the one trophy missing from their cabinet, the World Club Challenge. 12 months ago they were humbled by St Helens 13-12 on their home turf and Penrith are out to make amends in 2024.

"It kind of was a bit of a hangover last year," Cleary told AAP. "Just seeing how much it meant to St Helens and losing that game did hurt. We want to try to correct that this year. Obviously, over there will be a greater challenge in front of their home fans."

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