Cleary gets Panthers home, but has he won over Fittler?

Nathan Cleary has got his hands on his hips, breathing so hard before the Panthers' last-tackle play he won't get anywhere near close enough to kick.

Two plays earlier he's spied a gap, took off and only had his bootlaces pulled by David Gower with the line beckoning.

A few plays before that he's gambled. Big time. He's stuck his boot out near half-way to trap a Will Smith kick and is so desperate to recover the ball he gets there first.

Taking charge: Nathan Cleary scores the match-winning try for the Panthers.

Taking charge: Nathan Cleary scores the match-winning try for the Panthers.Credit:NRL Photos

It's almost a minute later and he's just taken his hands off his hips. Jarome Luai is about to kick. Cleary knows he must chase, just in case. The ball ricochets. Cleary's still near breathless, but his hands are off his hips and now smothering a ball for a try Penrith never looked like scoring in a month of Thursdays.


For weeks now, Blues coach Brad Fittler has been talking until he's blue in the face about Cleary's effort. In that second-half minute, now we all realise what he's been saying.

Now does he gamble, like Cleary did back on half-way, and pick a playmaker whose side has only just extricated themselves from the bottom of the NRL ladder?

Fittler doesn't like messing with the universe. His head might just be a little bit more messed up after Cleary left one lasting impression on the NSW boss, who has twisted himself inside out worrying about what do with his No.7.

Cleary was the best of a bad bunch on Thursday night. The Panthers inflicted a first loss at Bankwest Stadium on a dreadful Eels, scrambling to a 16-10 win. They finished with only two players on the bench after Waqa Blake (knee) and James Fisher-Harris (concussion) showered early.

But they left with two points for the first time in seven weeks. It was ugly, but to Ivan Cleary beautifully ugly.

Like he does every Thursday night, Fittler sat on the sideline with microphone in hand. He would have walked away impressed as Cleary helped drag his side out of the mire.

It's foolish to think Fittler was only watching Cleary.

On form alone in the first 10 weeks, Blake Ferguson could be in line for a stunning Origin recall. But Fittler values character as much as kick return metres. Drinking five days out from an Origin decider two years ago is one thing, dumping on an invitation to attend a NSW camp over summer might be another. Yet Ferguson's been making all the right noises since.

The biggest talking point of his first half was being placed on report for tripping Blake as he chased a Cleary kick. Given the feather used to tickle up offenders guilty of a stray leg these days, Ferguson can expect to be out of pocket but not the Origin picture.

He joked during the week with coach Brad Arthur that he's the best centre in the NRL, but he wasn't near the best centre on the park. He dropped so much ball that when one finally stuck he received bronx cheers from the crowd – his own crowd.

Can you imagine 50,000 souped-up Queenslanders fresh from The Caxton?

Jarome Luai, in for the Read More – Source

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