Nathan Cleary is about to arrive on the big stage.
Rewind back to the back end 2015 with Cleary’s Penrith Panthers Holden Cup team heading towards a Grand Final berth and subsequent victory over Manly Sea Eagles at Stadium Australia.
In a poorly scheduled schoolboys series between Australia and New Zealand held in Brisbane during the week of last year’s NRL Grand Final, Cleary led his side to a convincing two-nil series win.
It came at a cost as he sat on the sidelines at ANZ Stadium, missing out on his opportunity to taste premiership success with his teammates.
That sacrifice is about to be rewarded.
And this is why. In the ten games he played in last year’s Holden Cup he amassed 102 points, including 14 points in thrashing Canberra 68-4 in round 20.
Earlier that season Cleary represented the Panthers in the junior representative SG Ball Cup where in eight matches he scored 108 points.
It’s not that Nathan has ridden on the back of his high profile father and former head coach Ivan to rise through the ranks at Penrith, moving from playing in Harold Matthews Cup in 2013 to a berth in the National Rugby League just three years later.
He has simply been brilliant, a cut above the Holden Cup competition this season. Outside his superb goal kicking skills that mirror his father’s, Cleary has been instrumental in attack. This was shown recently in Bathurst where he set up try after try which saw Penrith lead 44-6 at half time before winning 74-10.
A short stint in NSW Cup was enough to convince Anthony Griffin that Cleary was worthy of promotion to the top grade.
This week he was rewarded by Penrith’s new CEO Corey Payne with a year extension on his contract which was set to end in 2018. Cleary was also moved into the top 25 Panthers squad.
Tonight in Melbourne he is set to debut at 18 years and 203 days old. He joins the likes of Sydney Roosters Latrell Mitchell, Knights duo Cory Denniss and Jack Cogger to make their NRL debut this season at that age.
Cleary is set to play in the halves alongside veteran play maker Jamie Soward with a mid-season pairing of the master teaching the apprentice how to play at the highest level.
The changing of the guard starts tonight.