Cleary: How I’ll lead Penrith’s resurgence
WITH the imposing shadow of James Maloney now gone, halfback Nathan Cleary has declared he must "step up" and take sole ownership of the struggling Panthers.
"It's a massive opportunity for me," Cleary told said.
Some felt Cleary's performance waned when playing alongside the dominant figure of Maloney.
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Now, at just 21 years old, Cleary knows he can now run the entire show at Penrith with former halves partner Maloney settled in France.
And Cleary also conceded he must help settle his new five-eighth, probably young gun Jarome Luai.
Speaking at Tuesday's launch of next season's Magic Round in Brisbane, Cleary said: "Without Jimmy there, the team will expect me to step up. Jimmy will definitely be a hard person to replace - not only as a player but as a leader as well.
"But it's a massive opportunity for me and also a massive challenge I'm really looking forward to. I am in a good position to take that next step forward. I think it could also help my game as well, taking that responsibility on my shoulders.
"I'm definitely ready to go. I've got a lot of motivation, more than ever.
"It will be about controlling the game and whenever I see something, to act on it. Jimmy did that a lot. Whenever he wanted the ball, he got it. He was very good at controlling the game.
"That will be the biggest thing we will miss and it's something I will have to make up for. I'm really looking forward to ripping in. Whoever is in the halves with me, I will try and take the pressure off because, ultimately, they will be inexperienced as well."
Cleary, who returned to training on Monday, spoke openly about his form last season and conceded season 2019 was difficult on and off the field.
"It was a pretty disappointing season not only for myself but for the team. We need to erase that and rip in to pre-season and start a lot better than last year," he said.
"At the start of last season, I was probably worried too much about what everyone was thinking - there were varying opinions about Origin and Dad (coach Ivan arriving at the club). I was reading way too much into it.
"I was spending too much time on my phone, social media. But as the year went on, I learned to listen to the people that mean most to me.
"It was a massive learning curve for me, not only with my footy but with leadership and taking over the team. I want to implement bits and pieces of that into my game for this coming year."
Asked did he shoulder much blame for Penrith missing the finals, Cleary said: "Definitely. Any playmaker would, that comes with the job.
"There were times last year when I just wasn't playing well enough and that was affecting the team. I have reviewed that, looked back, and I don't want that to happen again.
"I was pretty up and down. It wasn't my worst year in terms of footy but there were times when I wasn't playing the way I wanted to. It was frustrating. I was getting too caught up in things and was over thinking."
Cleary has already circled Magic Round between May 1 and 3 at Suncorp Stadium when Penrith tackle Gold Coast.
"It's something I'm really looking to," Cleary said. "I thought everyone really bought into it last year - it has a school footy carnival feel to it. To see so much footy over one weekend in one place is pretty cool."