How Cleary is following in Cameron Smith’s footsteps… and how he can break her

Whenever a young halfback prodigy enters the NRL, they are often unfairly compared to Knight Immortal Andrew Johns.

Especially if they are from the NSW, their chances are rated as opposed to “Joy”, who has been the benchmark for No. 7 on their backs since leading Newcastle to Grand Final wins in 1999 and 2001.

From the moment he quickly-tracked NRL at the age of 18, Nathan Cleary is seen as a potential superstar.

He has kept that promise and, at the age of 24 and re-signed with Penrith by the end of 2027, there is a terrible possibility for the opposition that he is now probably entering the first years of his career.

Johns himself wrote a column last August Sydney Morning Herald Where he said that Cleary could possibly be the best in the history of rugby league by putting himself and Jonathan Thurston in the packing order of the greatest halfback ever.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - June 19: Storm's Cameron Smith passes to Panthers' Nathan Cleary after a Round Six NRL match between Penrith Panthers and Melbourne Storm on June 19, 2020 at Campbelltown Stadium in Sydney, Australia.  (Photo by Ryan Pierce / Getty Images)

(Photo by Ryan Pierce / Getty Images)

“If Penrith halfback Nathan Cleary continues his current trajectory, Jetty and I are fighting for it silver and bronze,” he wrote.

For a game whose prizes are dominated by halfbacks, curiously Johns is the only halfback among the 13 immortals although Thurston is likely to join him on that pantheon of the best of the bottom of the track.

Cleary’s career may still go on for another decade before he enters the fray, and while his on-field play is a symbol of a halfback, his control of the game is similar to that of Melbourne legend Cameron Smith, who had the same influence as Hooker.

Nathan Cleary in the NRL Grand Final

(Photo by Chris Hyde / Getty Images)

When it comes to controlling the pace of the game, Cleary has become a master of modern times since Smith finally hung up his boots just over 18 months ago. Awareness of when to apply pressure, when to keep things in balance, and when the team needs to touch the ball to breathe is a feature of all great halves and more orchestral activities for storms like Smith, a pseudo No. 7, especially in his later years. The first receiver will switch out.

Cleary has been developing his leadership skills since taking over as co-captain Isa Yor at the start of last season, and although he has not reached the level of ability to influence Smith’s referees, he has been treated similarly to whistleblowers.

The fine art of comprehension is not easy to learn and referees are trained to know it is coming. Some captains try to intimidate the refs with wild gestures and raised voices, but Penrith cuts the cloth of reasoning with Cleary Smith to ensure no harm is done and often benefits by the decision.

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Smith chases 430

With three premieres, a record-breaking 430 NRL appearance and 2786 more points than anyone else in history, Smith is so close to immortality in a sure future.

Clearly has the potential to overtake Smith in all three categories.

He already has a premiership ring after beating Panthers South Sydney in last year’s Grand Final, and based on Penrith’s young roster, financial stability and indigenous talent production line, it’s not uncommon for them to win three more titles during Cleary’s tenure.

While losing the seemingly inaccessible mark of Smith’s 430 game may seem far-fetched, it is not impossible for Cleary.

Smith was 37 when he retired after winning the 2020 grand final against Cleary’s Panthers. With the continued improvement of sports therapy, Cleary could play until the mid-30s, at 24. Fellow halfback Daily Cherry-Evans is 33 and recently re-signed with Manly to keep him at the club when he turns 36 by the end of 2025.

Like Cleary in 2016, Smith made his debut in 2002 as an 18-year-old.

Cleary now has 126 NRL appearances under his belt – Smith was 24 when he played the same number of matches.

Storm's Cameron Smith presided from the field

Cameron Smith. (Photo by Bradley Canaris / Getty Images)

Smith played 20 or more games per season, except for his rookie year, when Matt Orford was only used twice as a halfback when he was unavailable, and when he played 19 in his final year, it was a brief contest due to the COVID-19 epidemic.

Its average per year between these two seasons is 24.06

Cleary, out of his rookie year when he played 15 games since making his mid-season debut and has not even had a half-full campaign this year, has averaged 21 games per season, including a short Premiership 2020.

If he can make 24 games for Smith every year, Cleary could overtake him if he plays until he is 37 years old.

Not given in any way but if he is injury free and maintains the competitive fire he showed in his first six years in the NRL, it is a possibility.

Cherry-Evans was 22 when she made her debut and wore the Sea Eagles color 270 times, so she will probably be in the 350-game ballpark once her latest contract expires.

(Photo by Tony Federer / Getty Images)

Shark veteran Aiden Tolman is the only active member of the NRL’s 300 Club after reaching the milestone last month.

Mitchell Pierce, 17, who made his roster debut in 2007, was the fastest 200 in 26 matches in the history of the Premiership – beating Craig Wing’s record – but gave up hope of releasing the 33-year-old Smith to the Catalans in the Super League. He left Newcastle in 309 NRL matches in the off-season to play with.

Riders star Jack Whitton, 29, who has amassed 207 games since making his debut in 2012 at the age of 19, Cameron Murray (112 at the age of 24 after his debut at the age of 19) and Rabitohas teammate Campbell Graham, who will bring his century to the magic round. The 22-year-old, after being admitted to the first class at 18, theoretically had the opportunity to finally reach Smith’s rare environment.

But on Smith’s journey, standing on Mount Everest, they were only at base camp.

Hazem El Masri (AAP Image / Action Photography / Colin Huellan)

Smith chased 2786

In terms of scoring points, Cleary seems to have a more realistic opportunity to overtake Smith as the greatest in the history of the Premiership.

Canberra vice-captain Jared Crocker with Bulldogs legend Hazem El Masry 2244, the third all-time 2786 Smith number 368. The center has two more years of experience in its contract with the Raiders but its effectiveness and availability have begun to be limited due to injuries. In the last 12 months, he doesn’t seem to have surpassed Smith.

The Broncos are the only current players anywhere near halfback Adam Reynolds Smith. He has 1950 points and with two more years left in his contract at Brisbane at the age of 31, he will have to play outside of that contract to nudge the record.

Cleary reached four figures last year as the 54th player in the history of the Premiership and made 1096 in his 126 Panthers presence. Warriors veteran Shawn Johnson (1186) is the only current player to have reached the 1000 point milestone and is no longer their goal-kicker.

Among the players ahead of Cleary on the list is his old man Evan, who scored 1363 points during his games with Manly, Norths, The Rosters and Warriors. Next year he will probably be overwhelmed by the fruit of his goal-kicking waist.

Nathan averages 8.7 points per game so if he maintains that rate, he will have to play 320 career matches to knock Smith off the highest point scoring perch.

Again, no guarantee but when you are playing for an influential Panthers team that scores a lot of points and your career goal-kicking accuracy is above 83%, it seems like a safe bet that Cleary will eventually be the top scorer in the Premiership.

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