State of Origin experience builds Cleary's confidence
FOUR months ago, Nathan Cleary was lying on his lounge at home with his injured knee in a brace.
"If you had said to me then, 'You're going to come back and win an Origin series with NSW' I probably would've laughed in your face,'' Cleary said yesterday.
Look who's smiling now.
No one better illustrates how the power of State of Origin can fast-track the maturity of a player than the rookie NSW halfback.
Yesterday instead of hesitating at the prospect of steering Penrith deep into the NRL finals, a steely-eyed Cleary stood detailing why he now had the big-game belief to achieve exactly that.
"I'll take parts of this (Origin) series to better myself for the Panthers. That's what I need to do,'' the 20-year-old said.
"We're in a really good position to make a big run for the finals and we'll play in some big games, so this experience is invaluable for me.
"Knowing that you can get the job done in big games is good for any player.
"I'm alongside Jimmy (Maloney) for NSW and Penrith and he's helped me out a lot.
"So that experience to take back to club level and hopefully better myself and my teammates around me, I'll take a lot of confidence out of that ... the way my mind works, I'll pick apart this whole series. I can't just let it go.''
Alongside his NSW teammates at the Panthers, Cleary has been rested from tonight's crucial clash with Cronulla.
His next game, his 50th NRL match, will be back at Suncorp Stadium, against Brisbane in round 19.
"It was a shame not to win (Origin III on Wednesday night), but ultimately the goal was to take the shield home and we're doing that,'' Cleary said.
"It's a great feeling ... I've taken a lot on board and I'm just learning as I go.
- David Riccio