Cleary still getting used to his Origin state

He might've looked like the State of Origin iceman as he sank the Canberra Raiders' hearts, but NSW young gun Nathan Cleary is still trying to get his head around his new double life.

But the Penrith Panthers halfback's focus is now purely on his next assignment – helping the NRL ladder leaders knock off the Sydney Roosters at Allianz Stadium on Friday.

Cleary admitted he wasn't at his best against the Raiders – despite sealing the win with a late field goal at Canberra Stadium on Friday night – and revealed he woke up before the game still coming down from his Origin high.

Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary is still getting to grips with the Origin win.

Photo: NRL Imagery

On debut, he showed he was at home as a representative footballer in the Blues' win in the series opener against Queensland on Wednesday night before flying to Canberra the following day to return to his other life in the NRL.

While it would be easy to let his mind drift forward to Origin II at ANZ Stadium on June 24, Cleary's focussed on the Roosters.


"I was still even [Friday] morning thinking about the Origin game trying to wrap my head around it and coming back down to earth because it was such a surreal feeling," he said.

"But I'm happy we got through this one [against the Raiders], got the win and now we've got a massive game against the Chooks coming up and then Origin after that.

"So, I'm just focused on getting my game right for Penrith for the game against the Chooks – they've been playing some good footy."

The 20-year-old wasn't happy with how he played on Friday night – despite sealing the 23-22 victory with a field goal, getting a try assist for Tyrone Peachey's second that sparked their second-half fightback, as well as having three line-break assists for the night.

That says a lot about why Cleary's rocketed into the Blues team in just his third season in the NRL.

It capped off a big week for the 47-game halfback.

He said it was hard to describe what the last few days have been like, especially after he was reminded of the $20,000 contract he signed when he was still playing under-20s.

Cleary recalled speaking to his father and Wests Tigers coach Ivan Cleary and how 2019 might be a good year for him to push to establish himself in the NRL.

Now he's 20 and already had his "dream come true" with his Origin debut.

"Very happy to get away with two wins this week – that was kind of the plan, making my Origin debut was a dream come true," Cleary said.

"It was a scrappy game. We didn't play well, including myself. I was pretty ordinary, but as I said to get the win was the most important thing.

"I can't even describe it given it's gone that quickly, I'm just so grateful. I'm just trying to ride the journey and I'm absolutely loving it.

"I was speaking to Dad as I signed that contract and we said, '2019 when you're 21, that might be your chance to really push into first grade'.

"Next thing you know I'm playing first grade and to make my Origin debut at 20 years of age, it's a dream come true."

While Cleary's halves partner James Maloney has a big experience edge over his younger half, there was never any thought of the five-eighth taking the field-goal attempt instead.

Maloney's slotted 20 one-pointers during his 216-game career, but had every confidence Cleary could get the job done.

Cleary was similarly matter-of-fact about it being his responsibility – especially as he felt he "owed the team".

"That's kind of my job, I had to take it," he said.

"It was kind of in front, so I felt I owed the team because I did some terrible things on the field and hopefully I'll improve on them. I was happy to knock it over in the end and get the win."

David Polkinghorne

David Polkinghorne covers the Canberra Raiders, local rugby league, Canberra Cavalry, racing and cycling, along with every other sport, for The Canberra Times.

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