The sublime performance of Nathan Cleary in the grand final provoked utter admiration in Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga, who declared that the formidable halfback is operating on “another level” when placed side by side with his competition. Despite the Penrith champion wrestling with a knee injury, Meninga was unhesitant in his decision to assign Cleary to national duties.
The extent of Cleary’s injury, resulting from the opening half of Sunday’s decider, could dictate whether or not the Clive Churchill Medal recipient will secure his spot clad in the Kangaroos No.7 jersey. As we await news over the 25-year-old sensation’s fitness status, Meninga vociferously asserted his belief in Cleary being the premier choice as Australian halfback, decisively chosen over Daly Cherry-Evans. This choice comes on the back of Cleary’s performance throughout the season – and indeed in the grand final – which was nothing short of spectacular.
“Daly has been sensational this year, but Nathan is truly at a different level right now,” Meninga professed, heaping praise on the complete Panthers outfit after their successful run of three consecutive premierships. The seasoned coach, drawing upon his years of experience within the sport, ranked the Penrith team among the best the game has ever seen. However, Meninga did not shy away from conjecturing that his former team, the mighty Canberra, with their five-time premiership winning streak, could perhaps best the Panthers.
James Tedesco, the Australian captain, shared Meninga’s awe as he marvelled at Cleary’s pivotal role in the final 20 minutes of Penrith’s remarkable come-from-behind victory, during which he set up two decisive tries before scoring the ultimate one, securing his position in grand final history.
Tedesco referred to it as one of the “greatest individual performances” he’d witnessed. He admitted that while Cleary hadn’t been at his peak form for the majority of the game, he truly seized control in the last 20 minutes. Contrary to his initial expectation of Penrith’s struggle to bridge the lead secured by Brisbane (24-8), Cleary singularly commandeered the match, steering the game towards victory with his precise runs and kicks.
“It was one of the greatest individual performances I’ve ever seen, particularly those last 20 minutes. Witnessing them win the grand final in such a riveting fashion was a sight to behold, and I couldn’t be happier for him,” Tedesco remarked.
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