Nathan Cleary says his ANZAC Day TikTok debacle has forced him to lift his game for the Penrith Panthers.
The NSW State of Origin halfback is in career-best form for the first-placed Panthers, who smashed Manly 42-12 on Saturday night.
Cleary is in the mix for the Dally M Medal – an extraordinary effort, having faced calls that he should be suspended for the rest of the season after being untruthful about breaching social distancing rules. He copped a two-game ban and has come back with a vengeance.
“I think coming into the year, I was kind of confident anyway but obviously after that happened, I knew I owed it to a fair [few] people to pay it back with my footy,” Cleary said on The Sunday Footy Show.
“I think it definitely made me grow up. It was pretty irresponsible what happened.
“I’m just happy to be playing some decent footy at the moment and just happy that Penrith’s winning some games.”
Cleary, who is mounting a huge case to again be named Blues No.7 for the post-season Origin series, said that he felt in career-best form.
“Definitely. I’m not too sure what it is; I’ve got to give a lot of raps to the coaching staff and the players around me, just for instilling a lot of confidence in me,” he said.
“I think I’m definitely feeling the best I ever have. But in saying that, I still think there’s a long way to go. Still trying to improve each week, get better. That’s the motivation at the moment, along with winning.
“Over the last month or so, we haven’t been playing our best footy but we’ve just been finding ways to win.”
Champion halfback Peter Sterling paid tribute to Cleary’s halves partner Jarome Luai, who seemed under siege for his No.6 jersey from gun youngster Matt Burton but has responded with superb form.
“I thoiught Matt Burton might have forced his way into the side but Luai, he’s been sensational,” Sterling said on The Sunday Footy Show.
“Cleary’s playing great in the seven but his six is just as good.”