Penrith Panthers Clive Churchill Medal winner Nathan Cleary deserves colossal credit for Peter Sterling

The brilliant halfback behind Parramatta’s four top 80s titles, the legendary Peter Sterling, has delivered Penrith No.7 Nathan Cleary the ultimate rap after the Panthers’ 2021 NRL grand final victory.

Cleary was great in the Panthers’ 14-12 win over the Rabbitohs in Brisbane, leading Penrith’s expert kick game to the winner of the Clive Churchill Medal.

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Even as a sincere supporter of the Eels, Sterling said it “hurts” to see the Rabbitohs lose the way they did.

But his praise for Cleary was huge after the 23-year-old playmaker led the Panthers to their first NRL premiership since 2003.

“He was fantastic, he was the best player on the pitch and I thought he had kicked South Sydney into submission,” Sterling said after Nine’s game.

“I got it right in the first 40 minutes. Came with five sets of restarts. These grand finals – they’re won by pressure. I thought other than the missed tackle for Cody Walker’s attempt, he was pretty much clear.

“You need a cool head, you need a number 7 to know how to handle these situations and I just thought he had everything so good tonight.”

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Sterling pointed out that Cleary had been subjected to the toughest of tests early in his career, citing his 10 State of Origin games with NSW and last year’s failed NRL decider.

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“He’s 23! He’s still learning the game,” Sterling said.

“But he’s been through so much at a young age. He’s been through Origin series, he was under pressure as a young player with so many expectations. But he’s a complete footballer.”

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Cleary became just the second Panthers player to win a Clive Churchill Medal, following in the footsteps of 2003 winner Luke Priddis.

Penrith defeated Canberra in the 1991 NSWRL Grand Final, but Raiders lock Bradley Clyde took top individual honors in that game.

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