He can be an immortal the ultimate compliment for Penrith Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary compared to Johnathan Thurston by James Tamou

Johnathan Thurston, carried from the field in his last game in Townsville, will go down as one of the greatest players of all time.

Johnathan Thurston, carried from the field in his last game in Townsville, will go down as one of the greatest players of all time.Credit:NRL Photos

‘‘Nathan has proven it with his drop goals and his ability to read the play. It’s almost like playing with JT. He’s nearly two steps ahead of you and you need to be on the ball. Sometimes we’re in video sessions and he’s telling us where we need to be, what we have to do. His brain is on another level, two steps ahead, and that was JT.’’

Cleary turns 23 next month and has arguably achieved more than Thurston had at the same age. Cleary has already played and started in 99 NRL games, while Thurston had only played 62 games before his 23rd birthday (12 off the bench).

Cleary has scored 801 points, 35 tries and kicked seven field goals, while Thurston at the same age had 206 points, 22 tries and two field goals. Cleary also has two State of Origin series victories, having won three of five games for NSW, while Thurston had won just one of three games for Queensland at the same age.

Thurston holds on to bragging rights in the premiership stakes, having won a grand final off the bench for Canterbury in 2004 before losing the decider against the Tigers the following year. Sunday’s clash against the Storm will be Cleary’s first grand final appearance.

‘‘JT’s the best player I ever played with, but Nathan is top three already,’’ Tamou said. ‘‘By the time he’s finished his career he probably could be up there with JT. They speak about luck of the bounce, but you make your own luck in rugby league and Nathan does that in every game. He might get the bounce of the ball, but he has to be there to be in a position to get the ball.

‘‘He’s always competing, and that’s one trait JT proved every game; he’s a competitor. Nath’s almost there. He’d probably be in the Australian team this year if there was one.’’

The Panthers put their faith in Cleary when they handed the young halfback a five year $5million extension at the end of 2018. At times in 2019 it appeared that faith may have been misplaced, but the club insists it never questioned the decision to invest so heavily in a player who looks set to collect the Dally M medal on Monday night.

Nathan Cleary thanks the Panthers supporters after Saturday night's preliminary final victory against South Sydney.

Nathan Cleary thanks the Panthers supporters after Saturday night’s preliminary final victory against South Sydney.Credit:NRL Photos

‘‘The investment in Nathan wasn’t an investment in one year. It was a long-term thing,’’ chairman Dave O’Neill said. ‘‘You might be critical of how Nathan performed last year, but Nathan was on well unders the two years before that. You can be as critical as you want but it balances out in the end.

‘‘You have to bide your time and do your apprenticeship. Having a player come in and demand $500,000 or $600,000 in year one is not good for the player. It might be good for the manager, but not many players can handle that pressure.’’


Johnathan Thurston
Games: 62 (12 bench)
Record: 41 wins, 21 losses (66 per cent)
Points: 206
Tries: 22
Field goals: 2
Origins: 1 win, 2 losses
Grand finals: 1 win, 1 loss

Nathan Cleary
Games: 99*
Record: 61 wins, 38 losses
Points: 801
Tries: 35
Field Goals: 7
Origin: 3 wins, 2 losses (2 series wins)
Grand finals: 1*

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Stephen Crichton has been one of Penrith's best players in 2020 and is a strong contender for rookie of the year.

Stephen Crichton has been one of Penrith’s best players in 2020 and is a strong contender for rookie of the year.Credit:Janie Barrett

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“There is a Bulldogs logo at the entrance to the club’s headquarters at Belmore Oval that spells out our motto – ‘Club First, Team Second, Individual Third’. It is how people involved with this special club should conduct themselves,” Anderson said.

Turns out that motto was created by former chairman Ray Dib, who Anderson helped overthrow, in his final days at the club. A number of people at the Bulldogs have reached out to Dib in the hope he would return, especially given the financial strength of the club under his watch, however he has knocked back every request.

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