Outstanding Penrith rookie Nathan Cleary concedes his father Ivan would never have given him his NRL debut this season if he was still coaching the Panthers.
However, the young halfback says he is looking forward to going head-to-head with his father when he returns to the first grade coaching ranks.
Ivan Cleary was sacked by the Panthers at the end of last season. Anthony Griffin was brought in and handed Nathan Cleary his NRL debut in round 13 against Melbourne.
Nathan has been a key player in the Panthers charge to Saturday’s semi-final against Canberra.
But he believes he would still be waiting to make his NRL debut if Ivan remained at the Panthers.
“I think that would have been the case but that is the way it goes,” Nathan Cleary said.
“It would have been hard for my dad to make those big choices. To give me a start. But it has worked out well and hopefully dad can get a coaching job in the next few weeks.”
Ivan Cleary has been strongly linked to an NRL return ever since his departure from Penrith. St George Illawarra has been mentioned more recently as his next possible assignment.
It would present an interesting battle if, or rather, when, father and son meet.
“We actually spoke about it not long ago, I look forward to it if it eventually happens,” Nathan Cleary said.
Speaking at the Rugby League Players’ Association Awards, Nathan Cleary said he didn’t expect to play more than one game this year, after Griffin told him he would make his debut during the State of Origin period.
“I sat down with Hook (Griffin) halfway through the season and he said ‘I am going to try and get you a game through the Origin period'”, Cleary said.
“I thought it was just going to be the one off game, I am stoked I got a few after that and from there it has just rolled on.”
Cleary’s stunning debut year could get even better against Canberra, with the winner at GIO Stadium one victory away from the grand final.
“I was definitely nervous coming into last week’s game (elimination final win over Canterbury) but getting amongst it put those nerves away,” he said.
“Canberra are a great team. I am looking forward to the challenge, I am sure I will be nervous but I just can’t wait.”
And Cleary Jnr does admit to his likeness to his old man. Over a 186-game first grade career and 249-game coaching career, Ivan was also know for is cool demeanour.
“I don’t know such that he has passed it on it is just a personality trait (we have),” Nathan Cleary said.