How Freddy helped Cleary handle pressure

Margie McDonald

True Blue Jamie Soward believes that Penrith Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary’s form in helping the Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues win the Ampol State of Origin series would have gone a long way to healing the pain of losing last year’s NRL decider to Melbourne Storm.

Penrith will line up for their second Grand Final in as many years, this time against the South Sydney Rabbitohs, and will be desperate to turn in a much better performance after being blown off the park early last year by the Storm to trail 26-0.

The Panthers roared home to finish 26-20 but it was a case of too little too late.

“They always saw you need to lose one to win one,” told Behind Blue Eyes for nswrl.com.au.

Soward, who played alongside Cleary when he made his debut at the Panthers in 2016, said the halfback’s game had matured following additional input from NSW Blues coach Brad Fittler.

Cleary has been part of the Blues line-up since 2018, playing in three of four series wins and winning the Brad Fittler Medal last year.

“I was lucky enough to play in Nathan’s first game and now to see how many big games he’s played since,” Soward said.

“The Origin experience has really helped him, and I think Freddy’s coaching as well.

“He looks a lot more relaxed and comfortable this year. The time off (shoulder injury) has helped him as well.

“He’s been there (in a Grand Final) before but in terms of winning that Origin series this year, I think that could be the little boost to get Penrith over the line on Sunday.”