Nathan Cleary’s grand final performance moved Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga to declare the star halfback was on “another level” compared with his rivals as he chose him for national duties even as an injury cloud hangs over the Penrith champion.
Scans on Cleary’s knee, which was injured in the opening half of Sunday’s decider before his one-man stunner shut out the Brisbane Broncos, could determine whether the Clive Churchill Medal winner takes his place in the Kangaroos No.7 jersey.
But as he waits on the 25-year-old phenom’s availability, Meninga said there was no doubt Cleary was the first choice Australian halfback, ahead of Daly Cherry-Evans, after a season, and a grand final performance, that was better than outstanding.
“Daly has had an unbelievable year but Nathan is at another level at the moment and he showed that on Sunday,” Meninga said as he lauded the entire Panthers outfit that has won three premierships in a row.
“I’ve been around the game a while, the Penrith team ranks among the best ever to play the game.”
But Meninga was quick to suggest they’d “probably get beaten” against the powerhouse Canberra outfit he won five premierships with.
Australian captain James Tedesco was equally in awe of what Cleary did in the final 20 minutes of Penrith’s come-from-behind win as he set up two late tries before scoring the sealer to cement his place in grand final folklore.
Tedesco even called it one of the “greatest individual performances” he’d seen.
“It was unbelievable,” Tedesco said.
“He’d admit he wasn’t at his best for most of that game but the last 20 minutes he really took control.
“I thought once Brisbane got that lead (24-8) that Penrith would struggle to score enough points to get back in the game.
“But Nathan just took control of the whole game, running game, kicking game, it was on point and he did what he had to do get the win.
“It was one of the greatest individual performances, especially the last 20 minutes, to win the grand final in the way they did was great to see, I’m very happy for him.”
The Kangaroos’ first match of the Pacific Championship is against Samoa in Townsville on October 14.