Dual Dally M leader Nathan Cleary says it would be “cool” to win the award as the NRL’s best and fairest, but it isn’t at the top of his goals as he hunts down a premiership with Penrith after last year’s grand final heartbreak.
Cleary leads the Dally M leaderboard on 13 points alongside Warriors star fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck following a stellar start to 2021 season with the unbeaten Panthers.
The NSW Blues No 7 controversially missed out on the Dally M medal last year, finishing in third place behind winner Jack Wighton from Canberra.
Nathan Cleary leads the Dally M leaderboard. Picture: Scott Davis / NRL PhotosSource:Supplied
Cleary’s Penrith side then went on to lose the grand final to Melbourne, fuelling his desire to place a premiership over any other achievement.
“Winning a Dally M would be a pretty cool thing, but it definitely isn’t at the top of things that I want to do,” Cleary said ahead of Friday’s home clash against Cronulla.
“I’m very grateful for that as well, but I’m always more pleased to have the team winning than anything else.”
The Panthers are flying on top of the ladder following eight straight wins to start the season.
The mountain men possess the pieces to take out the premiership, but Cleary believes his side is far from the finished product.
He insists the Panthers must significantly improve to have any chance of lifting the trophy.
“We are grateful to get off to such a good start and play some good footy, but a lot of us know that the end goal is a long way away, and we are going to have to be a lot better to get there in the end,” he said.
“It is good, but we’re definitely not satisfied.
“To be honest, every time we come in, we forget about the week before, so you kind of have to pinch yourself when you look at the ladder and you are 8-0.”
Winning the premiership would mean everything to Penrith captain Nathan Cleary. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images
Cleary has noticed a significant step up in energy from rival teams when playing against Penrith.
He remembers the Panthers feeling a similar way coming up against benchmark teams like Melbourne and the Roosters, so he understands why opposition sides aim up when they take on his side.
“I think the last three weeks, the Broncos, Knights and Manly on the weekend have all played pretty well against us,” he said.
“We’ve had to work really hard to win those games, but I think that is the pleasing thing – we’ve found a way to win although not playing our best footy.
“It (the Manly win) wasn’t the best, but I suppose there were a lot of moments in the game that we can take the positive out of.
“There were a lot of negatives as well, but it gives us motivation to come in and be better.”
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