Take what excels, is decent, respectable, and typical of the true essence of rugby league. Then double it. For 15 years we’ve been privileged to follow the parallel careers of Brett and Josh Morris.
Since his debut in 2016, Nathan Cleary has played 79 games for the Panthers.
His stats in 2019 were very average. He played 21 games for eight wins, ten tries, 157 points, 4,580 kick metres and 18 forced drop outs – which is the second-best in his career – nine try assists which is also second and a total running metres of 1,880.
Does that mean Cleary is establishing himself as one of the better halves in the game? No, that’s because he had a five-eighth who he shared the ball-playing role with in James Maloney.
Cleary’s running game will change slightly now that Maloney has left the club and will take a lot more of the kicking duties with a running five-eighth in Jarome Luai.
In 2017 Nathan Cleary was the top point scorer with 228 points, was the youngest player ever (19) to get the award in over a century and became the youngest person to score 200 points in a season.
In 2018 he made his Origin debut alongside Maloney in a 2-1 series win over Queensland. Cleary played all three games, scored four points, made 734 total kicking metres, got one forced drop out and 149 total running metres compared to 2019 where he played two games, scored ten points, made 435 total kicking metres and 86 total running metres.
The two stats which don’t look good for Cleary in Origin are his try assists (0) and forced drop outs (1).
With Panthers failing to fire in 2019 after coming tenth with 11 wins and 13 losses along with having their lowest total of points (413) since 2015 (399). They also had their lowest number of tries (67) in the last decade.
With the losses of Waqa Blake, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Tyrell Fuimaono, James Maloney, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and Dylan Edwards for at least three games, Cleary’s kicking game will be very important.
He will need to be a leader for the Panthers. His combinations with new recruit Api Koroisau at dummy-half and five-eighth Luai will have to be synchronised to perfection.
Cleary will be the most important man for the Panthers in 2020. If selected for Origin, Cleary will need to improve his stats if the Blues are to have any success.
Whoever partners him in the halves will also be very important for how he plays because the Blues need to pick a five-eighth who is mainly a runner of the ball like Jack Wighton, Mitchell Moses or Luke Keary.
Each of them can really improve Cleary’s game at Origin level and build a solid halves combination for the next 5-10 years.