Nathan Cleary silenced his critics with a sparkling display in Australia's victory over Samoa in the Rugby League World Cup final on Sunday, but it still wasn't enough for some detractors of the much-maligned Panthers superstar.
Cleary is now a World Cup winner on top his back-to-back NRL premierships with Penrith, stepping up for his country after winning the starting halfback role over Daly Cherry-Evans.
The 25-year-old had three try assists, four line break assists, four tackle breaks, a 40/20 and 119 running metres as Australia dismantled Samoa 30-10 in Sunday morning's final. But the star halfback still managed to cop some brutal criticism on social media in the aftermath.
The same detractors who called for Cleary's head after NSW's series loss to Queensland in State of Origin earlier this year were out in force on Sunday to claim that he hadn't done enough in the World Cup final.
"Australia has such bad tall poppy syndrome when it comes to sport, we just won the RLWC and the takes about Nathan Cleary being not even that good have already started. Gimme a break! He won a World Cup, what more do you expect from him!! There’s nowhere else to go," one fan wrote on Twitter.
Another fan wrote: "Seeing many of the same folks that have judged Nathan Cleary’s Origin career on lack of try assists now downplaying them in the WC is peak NRL Twitter. I would say keep it real, but don’t. It’s much funnier that way."
Seeing many of the same folks that have judged Nathan Cleary’s Origin career on lack of try assists now downplaying them in the WC is peak NRL Twitter. I would say keep it real, but don’t. It’s much funnier that way 😂😂😂
— Brain Felcher (@PantherRantz) November 20, 2022
He was terrible once again . A decent half and the Aussies put 50 on them
— KidCowboy🤠 (@Kidcowboy2) November 20, 2022
When he going to do this consistently for NSW?
— Bags of fun (@doineed2dothis) November 19, 2022
Got carried for the whole tournament to produce his best game, he wasn't shithouse but far from good
— Dan (@deepCracinmulet) November 19, 2022
Ranked fourth coming into the World Cup, Mal Meninga's side left the 67,502 fans inside Old Trafford in little doubt as to who is the game's No.1 nation as they put six tries on the underdog Samoans.
Australia entered the competition under more pressure than ever before, after some of their best eligible players had been wooed into playing for Samoa and Tonga. After three years without a game - the last of which in 2019 was a defeat to the Tongans - their standing and reverence in league's world order had been in question.
But after blooding 13 debutants on this tour and conceding just 42 points through six games, Meninga's side have signalled the start of a newly-successful era in green and gold.
"This is only the beginning of this team, I can assure you," Meninga said.
"All these guys are going to be together for the next three to six years. There were times in that game when Samoa threw everything at us and we handled it really well. We came back with more energy."
Mal Meninga's warning to rugby league world
Meninga said he believes that under captain James Tedesco, who he praised effusively for his leadership in the final, the class of 2022 will prove terrific guardians of Australia's ever more impressive roll of honour in the global game
"We go back to the early '70s when you're talking about a 90 per cent winning record (over the last half-century)," said Meninga, when asked about protecting the Kangaroos' reputation as one of the world's great sports teams.
"It's been a dominant time for an Australian team, and I think we accept that really well as a group of players in the green and gold. The expectation is we win tournaments - so it's not a burden to us, we carry that with great humility and respect.
"We understand what wearing the green and gold means. We understand that everyone doesn't want to see us win except for the most ardent Australian supporters - but we accept that and we get on with business."
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