With previous finals experience and a dominant Stage of Origin performance, Nathan Cleary feels well prepared to take on the South Sydney Rabbitohs in the Qualifying Final on Saturday afternoon.
Not only is the 23-year-old using the skills he learned in his representative exposure to improve his finals performance, he plans on guiding younger members of the team along the way.
Stepping up to captain role in partnership with Isaah Yeo, Cleary said the Panthers are treating the upcoming match like a grand final.
“Our mentality going into it is that this is like a grand final to us and we want to play well and get the win, but if not then we’re lucky enough to have a second chance,” Cleary told media on Tuesday.
The Rabbitohs have named Blake Taaffe as fullback for the clash, replacing Latrell Mitchell who faces a six week suspension following a dangerous high tackle on ex-teammate Joseph Manu.
Cleary discussed that the Panthers plan to conduct video analysis on the player in the number one jersey, so they can be prepared for anything come Saturday.
“If we do what we want to, then that will be the best way of minimising the effect that any fullback they have [has] on the game,” he said.
“[I] always want to test out the fullback no matter who it is.”
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With the most kick metres in the league, the star play-maker wants to hand the Rabbitohs yet another defeat at the hands of the Panther this year.
“The last few times we’ve versed them it’s come right down to the wire and been a really good contest, so I think it’ll be very similar to that on Saturday night,” Cleary said.
“Any time you come up against a powerhouse team like Souths you want to play well and you want to get the win so it’s obviously no different this week.”
Leading by example on and off field, Cleary has been a consistent feature in the Panther’s victories this year.
After suffering a shoulder injury in the Origin series earlier in the year, Cleary expressed his appreciation for the rehabilitation staff who assisted in the recovery process.
“Once I’m in the game it just kind of feels normal, I’m obviously just trying to avoid getting in awkward situations but in terms of contact and getting tackled it feels fine,” the halfback said.
“The physio staff have done an amazing job, I’m very grateful for the work they’ve put into me and I’m just constantly trying to get it strong enough.”
Paying homage to Scott Sorensen who suffered an ulna dislocation in the final round of the home and away season, Cleary explained that the young forwards of the team are ready to take on the finals challenge.
“He’s been a massive part of our team this year, he’s definitely one of the unsung heroes and definitely doesn’t get as many wraps as what he deserves,” he said.
“He’s very much appreciated from all the boys around here and his work definitely doesn’t go unnoticed.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how those guys go but [I’m] really feeling sorry for Soro.”
With Cleary stepping up to co-captain the Panthers side, he believes this finals series will give him the opportunity to assist players who are appearing in their finals for the first time.
“I feel like I’ve taken a lot of confidence out of every finals game I’ve played so far in my career and learned different lessons along the way,” he told media.
“[I’m] hoping to take those in to this finals series and helping out the guys that are going through their first finals series or [one] very early in their career.”
Taking home the State of Origin shield with five other members of the team, including co-captain Yeo, Cleary has greatly developed his confidence across the year.
Arguing that his role doesn’t really change on-field as the captain, the Penrith junior is proud of his roots and his team’s progress.
“You probably don’t feel it as much when you’re out on the field because my role-play doesn’t change too much, Cleary said.
“But when you kind of sit back and look at it, it’s a very proud moment to captain this great club and to be able to do it alongside a good mate like Yoey it’s been really cool.
“Coming to our first finals series together as captains, it’s a very special moment and something I’m looking forward to.”
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