Andrew Johns says Nathan Cleary is on the verge of his own great era, confident the NSW No.7 is ready to own a State of Origin series.
A close confidant of Cleary’s, Johns sees several similarities between his own career and Cleary’s.
WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: Andrew Johns declares Nathan Cleary is ‘the best player in the world’.
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The pair have regularly exchanged calls through the seasons, with Johns acting as an extra mentor for Cleary throughout Penrith’s success.
But in this year’s Origin camp, the rugby league Immortal is comfortable taking a back seat.
In Cleary he sees a more mature player, who has gone from a teenage NRL debutant and 20-year-old Origin rookie to the game’s leading No.7.
He also sees a man who is ready to dominate Origin, after copping the same knock he did for failing to do so through the early years of his career.
Cleary has won three of five series he has played for NSW, one more than Johns did over his first five years for the Blues between 1995 and 1999.
Come 2000, Johns was able to take full charge of the Origin arena, winning seven of his next 10 games in a period of prolonged dominance for NSW.
“It was around the early 2000s when I thought I got to that level,” Johns said.
“I was about 25 or 26, Nathan is the same age. The next four or five years, fingers crossed he stays injury free, you are going to see a different player.
“You are going to see a player totally elevate himself in the game.
“So the ceiling, who knows where he gets to. Who knows how good he can get.”
Johns said it was at around the same age he had his lightbulb moment as a player, working under Warren Ryan at Newcastle.
And he could already see that happening for Cleary after winning two titles at Penrith and claiming the Kangaroos No.7 jersey in last year’s World Cup.
“Once you are on the field you get little scenarios and moments and it’s like, well this is what I have been working for,” Johns said.
“This is what this coach did. This is what he told me about. And that is happening for Nathan now.
“He will have moments in this series that as the game slows down, he is going to have those lightbulb moments.
“The next challenge for Nathan is owning an Origin series. Fingers crossed this is the one.”
Cleary is unfazed by the criticism he is yet to own a series for NSW.
He feels more comfortable in camp now, and has had his moments with a man-of-the-match showing in Game II of 2020 and a big Blues series win in 2021.
“I don’t really care (what people say). I know in myself what I want to do. I feel like I could have been a lot better in a lot of series,” Cleary said.
But Johns’ backing is something that does matter to the 25-year-old.
“It gives me confidence for sure,” Cleary said.
“I know what I want to get out of myself and I feel like I am definitely ready too.”
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