Who’s your daddy? Cleary fit for showdown with old man and Brooks
By Christian Nicolussi 11 May 2018 — 6:00pm
Perched in the Keith Barnes Stand at one end of Leichhardt Oval, Nathan Cleary watched the Wests Tigers and his rival No.7 Luke Brooks with plenty of interest on Thursday night. And less than an hour after Brooks helped orchestrate the Tigers’ 20-12 victory over North Queensland, Cleary declared he would return from a knee injury next Thursday when Brooks and his coach – Nathan’s father Ivan – travel down the M4 Motorway to Penrith. Nathan versus Ivan and Brooks – the player in the mix for the NSW No.7 jersey – will be one of the best stories of the NRL season. One cheeky Tigers player asked Ivan as he addressed the players after their win: “Any chance you can give the halfback food poisoning next week?” Cleary spotted Nathan being interviewed and yelled from his car: ''He’s here taking notes, apparently." The 20-year-old playmaker survived a final fitness session on Friday and will rejoin the main playing group on Monday for the Panthers Stadium clash that deserves to be a sell-out.
"It’s pretty funny how it works out, and there’s already a bit of banter flying around,’’ said Nathan, who for the record was not decked out in Tigers supporters’ gear at Leichhardt. "He doesn’t reckon I’ll get picked. Hopefully I do. I’m looking forward to getting back playing, and funnily enough it’s against the old man. "The second time around [against Ivan], I’m kind of looking forward to it. It’s a fun week. "I stayed at home the full week last time and we got the win, so hopefully it’s the same. There will be no car pooling. I might even let down a few of his tyres.’’ The bond between father and son was impossible to ignore late Thursday and made it easy to picture Nathan being cheered by the same Leichhardt faithful who celebrated Brooks. If you are a Tigers fan, you can only dream of a Cleary and Brooks halves combination from 2020 onwards. Cleary maintained he had given no thought about what he would do once his current deal at the foot of the mountains expired at the end of next season.
Brooks could see the funny side of Cleary becoming the eventual owner of his club jersey. "My dad would probably choose me as well – I hope he would,’’ Brooks said. "If that happens, it happens. I can’t control it. He’s said he wants to play under Ivan, but Ivan did tell me he had full confidence in me when that did come out.’’ Brooks was at his best against the Cowboys, especially in the first half. He showed marvellous speed to run 90m for a try and proved too slick for Queensland Origin star Michael Morgan. Even Nathan gave him a rap. “He’s been in awesome form this year,” he said. "He’ll be tough and and we’ll gave to be on our A-game next week, especially in defence. "He’s looking good and I’m looking forward to playing him.’’
Cleary’s return will be a boost for a Panthers pack who have had more than their share of injuries. He will have two games to prove to NSW coach Brad Fittler he is physically ready to be thrown into the Origin cauldron. He broke down with a knee injury in round three against Canterbury, leaving it to halves partner James Maloney to step up and do a fantastic job steering the team around in his absence. Brooks, 23, is making an irresistible case to be given a Blues nod. Next Thursday’s family affair will also feature Panthers fullback Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and his older brother Malakai, who scored a try in his first-grade recall for the Tigers.