Maloney's voice still in Cleary's NRL mind

Nathan Cleary is revelling in his role as Penrith's chief playmaker but he says the influence of James Maloney is a big part of his career-best NRL form.

NATHAN CLEARY.
NATHAN CLEARY. Picture: Matt King/Getty Images

Nathan Cleary knows he's playing his best football as chief playmaker of Penrith but says James Maloney's influence is still a big part of his brilliant NRL form.

Maloney is renowned as one of the best winners of the NRL era, the only half in the game's history to take three different clubs to grand finals.

While he left for England at the end of last year, Penrith have found their feet without him this season with their longest stretch at the top of the ladder since 1991.

Saturday's clash with Canberra is one of the last real litmus tests for the Panthers, who have knocked off both the Sydney Roosters and Melbourne this year.

And much of that is down to Cleary, who is clearly revelling in taking full ownership of the team without sharing the responsibility with Maloney.

"A lot of people alluded to it. We played some really good games but I think we were quite similar," Cleary said.

"But in saying that I learnt a ton off Jimmy. The way we are going is a credit to him.

"He taught me a lot of stuff and things I wasn't doing before he came to the club just about game management.

"I don't take that time with Jimmy for granted."

Cleary's game management as the chief half has been just as impressive as the nine tries he's set up and four he's scored.

Largely contained to one side of the field when playing with Maloney, he is now far more effective playing on both sides of the ruck.

The difference is obvious with Cleary getting his hands on the ball an extra 16 times per game this year.

He's also contributing to tries on both sides of the field with his five-eighth Jarome Luai and ever-changing fullbacks controlling an edge each.

"I have tried to own that middle third of the field with the forwards and then Romi and Caleb (Aekins) roaming the edges," Cleary said.

"A lot of the time it's just distributing the X-factor to the edges and they are playing really well."

Cleary also credits Trent Barrett with his turnaround, but says the assistant coach's departure for Canterbury at the end of the year has barely been discussed.

"The biggest thing with Baz is he has given me a platform to play off and given me a whole lot of confidence which is something I lacked last year," Cleary said.

"It will be a massive loss losing him."