Among all the hyperbole over where Nathan Cleary stands after his Grand Final heroics, Broncos great Darren Lockyer has had his say.
As all NRL fans know, Cleary produced a 20-minute purple patch for the ages on Sunday to guide Penrith to the greatest comeback in Grand Final history.
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Having acknowledged he was well below his best earlier in the game, the 25-year-old Cleary was involved in everything to produce an 18-point turnaround and stun the Broncos.
It capped a third straight premiership for Cleary and the Panthers and had some speculating about his standing among the great halfbacks and worthiness for Immortal status.
Curiously, of the 13 Immortals named to date, Andrew Johns – the most recent recipient – is the only dedicated halfback.
Johns, Peter Sterling, Ricky Stuart, Johnathan Thurston and Allan Langer are among the names raised when the best No. 7 in the game’s history is discussed.
Lockyer, who spent his entire 355-game club career with the Broncos, was devastated by the Brisbane side’s defeat at Accor Stadium.
He also stated he couldn’t remember a better performance than what Cleary produced.
“Nathan has got eight years to go, maybe more. His legacy already is enormous,” Lockyer said.
“Maybe with Origin he wants to tick a few more boxes, but in terms of club halfbacks the last bloke to do that (in a Grand Final) was Sterling.
“It is incredible and I don’t know if a bloke like Sterlo won a game like that on his own in the 1980s.
“Cleary won that game. Penrith didn’t win that. Nathan Cleary did.”
Among Johns’ legacy of performances was his effort in 2005 when he was rushed back into the NSW side for game two of that year’s State of Origin series only one game back from a broken jaw.
Down 1-0 in the series, Johns produced a man-of-the-match display in game two and then helped the Blues prevail 32-10 in game three in Brisbane to clinch the shield.
Johns’ effort that year came to mind when Lockyer was watching Cleary in full flight.
“I remember in 2005 when Joey (Johns) kicked a 40/20 here in Origin and then he just went on a roll,” he said.
“It was like that with Cleary. Isaah Yeo is in the HIA. Jarome Luai is out (injured). Cleary takes them on himself.
“It was a ridiculous performance by him.”
Lockyer was also left lamenting the realisation during the game that his Broncos only had one job, which they were ultimately unable to complete.
“(Cleary) was the only option. I was watching the game thinking, ‘We have only got to keep him quiet and we have got this’,” he said.