He’s just 18 years of age, but Nathan Cleary is no tweener.
The Penrith rookie showed why the club fast-tracked his NRL ascension, and Jamie Soward’s decline, by leading his side back into the top eight with a 38-18 demolition of the Sydney Roosters on Monday.
In just his ninth game in the top grade, Cleary scored the first try with an individual effort before laying on one a try-of-the-season contender for Tyrone Peachey in the second half.
Breaking into the backfield on a Bryce Cartwright reverse flick pass, Cleary then sliced a kick on the run to Peachey, who didn’t break stride, to finish off a 60-metre effort.
It was a play that showed off his trademark maturity well beyond Cleary’s years.
“It was a great try, wasn’t it?” coach Anthony Griffin said before trying to play down Cleary’s effort.
“He’s doing a great job. His kicking game is good, (but) I’ve got to give a wrap to Bryce (Cartwright) and Matty Moylan, Peter Wallace, the guys around him.
“They’re keeping him calm and pointing in the right direction, but he did a good job tonight for us.”
Even Cartwright, the league’s offload king, was stunned by the try.
“It was a pretty crazy try,” he said.
“Got the crowd pretty loud and it’s good for the birthday boy (Peachey) to cross twice. To score a try like that, it was a great team try. It was great to watch, wasn’t it?”
The good form of halves Cartwright and Cleary means it is now unlikely Griffin will push for the return of another young gun in Te Maire Martin, who is just two weeks back from a major shoulder injury.
“He played a full game on Saturday, but he’s scratchy,” Griffin said of Martin.
“There wasn’t anything wrong with what (our halves) did tonight, I wouldn’t think. But obviously it’s good to have people like Te Maire back. It gives us some options there.
The victory lifted the Panthers into seventh spot with four games remaining in the season, including next week’s clash against lowly Newcastle.