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COVENTRY – Nathan Cleary has revealed his tears as his first Kangaroos jersey was presented to him ahead of Australia’s 84-0 victory over Scotland in Coventry.
Though Cleary has been one of the best players in the world for several years, and has back-to-back Premierships and a raft of Origin appearances behind him, the Kangaroos jersey has eluded him with the three-year Covid hiatus.
The Kangaroos jersey presentations involved a Zoom with family back home for most, but for Nathan, father and club coach Ivan was in Coventry, along with mother Rebecca.
“It still feels a bit unreal that I actually played for Australia,” said the halfback. “It was an emotional morning and a crazy feeling to get out there and play a game like that. It was good fun and I’m very grateful.
“There was a little bit (of tears). Mum and Dad were there so I was a bit emotional but it was a cool experience and I’m so glad that they could get out here for my debut. It makes it more special. They were there and it made it that bit more special.
“I was really nervous. I woke up and had that butterfly feeling, I wasn’t too sure. I didn’t think I would get nervous but woke up and I had it. Once I got to the game and got through the warm up, I was looking around at the players alongside me and it gave me confidence. I was keen to play.
“Once you get out there, you’re playing footy and playing off instinct. The blokes alongside me are pretty great players so it makes me look better.
“Playing for the green and gold is the best honour you can have and it feels a bit surreal that I’ve done it. There’s such great history and pride in the jersey so to be able to pull it on and win like that is very special.”
Cleary said that he had enjoyed the tour, but that he didn’t feel fully part of the group until getting onto the field. All those who featured in the NRL Grand Final were rested for last week’s opener with Fiji, meaning that international debuts for Isaah Yeo, Liam Martin and Cleary were delayed a week further.
“I’ve had a great time with all these boys, it’s a great group, everyone gets along well and we have a lot of fun,” he said. “Watching last week got me keen to get out there and earn the respect of all my teammates.
“The best way to do it is by playing hard. There’s not a feeling in the world like going out, playing well and getting a win. It’s something that you chase.
“You don’t really feel part of the team until you play alongside them and try to earn their respect. It’s a great feeling to get out there.”
He refused to be drawn on the constant media speculation surrounding the halfback role in the latter stages of the tournament. Daly Cherry-Evans got first crack last week, but the spot would now be considered Cleary’s after a near-record 28 points on debut (behind Andrew Johns’ 30 against South Africa in 1995).
“I’m not thinking too much into that, to be honest it’s a bit of a media beat up,” he said. “Me and Cherry get along well. I’m enjoying it here and if I get picked I get picked. I’m happy either way.
“I had no idea (about the record), I was just playing. Mal said in the sheds that I was number two. I didn’t know at the time! It was great fun and being able to play alongside those guys, you just have to kick it through the posts. It didn’t do itself.”