Nathan Cleary with dad Ivan ahead of their match with the Tigers this week. Picture. Phil Hillyard
Nathan Cleary with dad Ivan ahead of their match with the Tigers this week. Picture. Phil Hillyard

Panthers legend reveals Cleary’s self-doubt crisis

HE'S the incumbent NSW halfback who at just 21 is tipped to be a superstar but Penrith halfback Nathan Cleary is feeling the pressure.

After performing modestly over the opening three rounds he has found himself under intense scrutiny from some who have questioned his position in the Blues side.

However, NSW coach Brad Fittler and his Blues adviser Greg Alexander are standing by their man.

"Nathan just has to have confidence and belief that he is a good player," said Alexander, the former Penrith halfback.

"Sometimes when you go through a tough patch, your confidence drops and you might have doubts.

"Everyone has self-doubts. But you just have to believe in what you are doing and the sort of player you are. He just has to keep working hard and he will get through the tough times.

"It doesn't matter who you are or what status you have or you've had in the game, everyone goes through a tough time.

"But when you start the season slowly like Penrith have, it affects everyone's individual performances.

Cleary’s NSW Blues spot is under-pressure following his form slump. Picture. Phil Hillyard
Cleary’s NSW Blues spot is under-pressure following his form slump. Picture. Phil Hillyard

"Nathan will come good. I have every confidence in him. He is always looking to improve. Everyone at Penrith is looking to see where they can get better and Nathan is no different."

The pressure will only increase on Cleary when his dad, Penrith coach Ivan, faces former club Wests Tigers on Friday night at Panthers Stadium.

"I don't think his dry spell is going to be too long," Fittler said.

"We go through a process of picking the (NSW) team each week and he's still the seven.

"I am always impressed with his work ethic. He does things that people take for granted. His defence is great and he tidies things up, cleans things up. The other stuff isn't coming at the moment but that will change.

"(Criticism) happens. When you accept being one of the higher-paid players, that's what comes with it. He understands that. He will handle it well. I don't know if he reads that much when he is doing well or poorly.

Blues coach Brad Fittler says Cleary is still the frontrunner for the halfback role. Picture: Brett Costello
Blues coach Brad Fittler says Cleary is still the frontrunner for the halfback role. Picture: Brett Costello

"I don't think I'll have a chat to him. He has most probably got enough people talking to him at the moment."

The Panthers shot themselves in the foot during last weekend's 32-2 loss to Melbourne Storm with 26 errors and 16 missed tackles. Social media had a field day in criticising the players.

Cleary's five-eighth partner James Maloney is also under pressure to retain his NSW jumper.

"You're more in focus at the start of a season," Alexander said. "It's only early in the season.

"Penrith were regarded during the off-season as one of the teams that will finish at the top-end of the ladder rather than the bottom.

"Because they have started unexpectedly poorly, that automatically puts pressure on individuals."

Cleary ran for 37m against Melbourne and made 21 tackles.