Penrith co-captain Nathan Cleary has claimed the Clive Churchill Medal for his heroic efforts in guiding the Panthers to a superb 14-12 victory over South Sydney at Lang Park.
- Cleary shines for the Panthers despite a shoulder injury
- In addition to his playmaker role, he contributes six points with the boot
- His father and coach Ivan played 11 seasons of NRL but never won a grand final
The Panthers playmaker was instrumental for the premiers, slotting three goals while leading their attacking prowess across 80 minutes with a niggling shoulder injury.
An emotional Cleary embraced his father and coach Ivan Cleary moments after the siren as the pair celebrated their first premiership together.
While receiving his Clive Churchill Medal from his dad, the 23-year-old acknowledged what his team had just achieved.
“A massive thank you to the Souths’ boys,” Cleary said.
“It is always a battle when we [play] you boys, it is no different tonight.
“We finally got here, we climbed Everest and we can’t wait to get back to Penrith and party, baby.”
However, Cleary’s shoulder may need surgery.
In July, the halfback’s season looked in tatters as he suffered the injury while steering NSW to a State of Origin game-two win that sealed a series triumph at Suncorp Stadium.
Three months later, Cleary raised the premiership trophy at the same venue on Sunday night, capping a remarkable tale of resilience.
Clearly hardly missed a beat after his club’s medical staff saved his season by opting for rehabilitation rather than immediate surgery.
He was in the thick of it in the grand final, orchestrating the Panthers with a calm head and sublime kicking game.
He forced four line dropouts to keep the blowtorch on the Rabbitohs.
While off-season surgery almost certainly awaits, Cleary will savour the moment after Penrith overcame last year’s grand final loss to Melbourne with their first title in 18 years.
Cleary’s night only got better when the Clive Churchill Medal was presented by his father and coach Ivan Cleary.
“It’s not about us but it’s special,” he said of winning a title with his dad.
“I have been dreaming of this moment since I was a little kid.
“I was so grateful to play one NRL game and then to win a grand final is crazy, to do it with dad and the people I’ve grown up with is special.”
The Clearys entered a special club in Panthers history after coach John Lang and his son, prop Martin shared premiership glory the last time the club triumphed in 2003.
Ivan Cleary claimed the premiership in his 370th game as a coach, becoming the only man to win a title for the first time after their 250th game.
But he admits he could not have scripted a better finish than to hand his son the Clive Churchill Medal.
“That was completely out of this world,” he said.
“I was standing there like, I couldn’t have even written that story. I didn’t know it was happening, I didn’t know I had to do it.
“I don’t know how to explain it.”