Is this the real reason Nathan Cleary cops the hate in rugby league?

Nathan Cleary (pictured) looks on during the rugby league World Cup.
Why does Nathan Cleary (pictured) a World Cup and NRL premiership halfback receive so much criticism? (Getty Images)

Line up a supporter from each of the NRL sides and ask them the following question: "If Nathan Cleary was suddenly on the open market, would you have him at your club?"

Anyone who answers No is either A/ a liar B/ totally devoid of rugby league IQ C/ A and B combined.

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Cleary has played in three consecutive grand finals for two wins, has won a state of Origin series and just turned on a masterclass to help Australia secure the World Cup.

Yes, Cleary was a little slow to warm into the tournament, not helped by coach Mal Meninga's reluctance to make an early call on Daly Cherry-Evans.

No, Cleary hasn't always aimed up at Origin level and wasn't as dominant in England as he was at club level this year.

But he was an integral part of a side that went through the World Cup undefeated before he saved his best for last, spitting out playing stats that had him vying for man-of-the-match honours.

Incredibly, there was still criticism.

Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga heard and read it all in the lead-up to the final and felt affronted when challenged about the form of his No.7 (or whatever number he was given in the Kangaroos' bingo system).

"I thought he was excellent. He was exceptional," big Mal said.

"Not many people expected it but (we did).

Skipper James Tedesco added: "Nathan's such a high-quality player. Everyone at the start of the tournament was calling him the best player but by the end of it people were bagging him.

Nathan Cleary (pictured) speaks after the NRL grand final.
Nathan Cleary (pictured) won the 2022 premiership with Penrith. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

"I don’t really understand some of the comments that come with Nathan but he's one of the best players in the world.

"He showed it (during the final) and hopefully you guys can appreciate that."

Mal added: "It’s been a bit ridiculous, to be honest, the banter's that's been going on."

Ridiculous is one word for it.

Why does Nathan Cleary cop so much criticism?

So, what is it about Cleary that so polarises league fans?

He's a really decent fella away from footy, rarely putting a foot wrong in public (yes, the Covid misadventure aside).

He's on track to become one of the greatest players of his generation and, perhaps, rival the biggest names the game's seen given he's got another decade of football in front of him.

Brilliant players always cop some heat, but the hate Cleary receives is next level.

Again, why?

"Some of it is down to the tall poppy syndrome, some of it is down to people not liking his old man and some of it is just pure jealously," one veteran NRL commentator told Yahoo Sport Australia.

"But I think the main reason is the club he plays for. Penrith have enjoyed a lot of success and some people have a problem with the way they carry on, seeing it as arrogance.

"If Cleary played for St George Illawarra or Newcastle, he wouldn't cop half of what he cops."


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