Cleary ready for Cowboys challenge
It will be the first day fixture at 1300SMILES Stadium in over a decade and the Penrith Panthers are a side confident they can handle the tropical North Queensland heat on Saturday afternoon.
After slogging it out in one of the hottest summers on record in Western Sydney, the Panthers find themselves in the top eight and are aiming for five-straight victories but face the Cowboys in a 3pm timeslot north of the border – a daytime fixture not scheduled since September 16, 2007 when the Cowboys clashed with the Warriors in a qualifying final.
Anthony Griffin's men were faced with freezing conditions against the Canberra Raiders in Bathurst last start and Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary said he was looking forward to the change in weather conditions.
"It will be the complete opposite weather-wise to Bathurst that's for sure," Cleary told NRL.com.
"To be honest I've never been up there before either so it will be a first for me and a good experience. The humid conditions will make it tough but I like the heat better than the cold so we should all be fine and if anything we should be used to it."
The 19-year-old has only met the North Queensland club once in the Holden Cup and will line up opposite Johnathan Thurston for the first time – albeit if the Maroons No.7 gets through Origin II unscathed.
It shapes as a special occasion for Thurston should he play, with the Australian international set to notch up his 300th game in the NRL Telstra Premiership.
"He's always been a great player and someone I've idolised growing up so to be apart of his 300th game is going to be special," Cleary said.
"We need to be on our game especially in defence and be able to combat his influence."
Cleary admitted he was disappointed to see former halves partner Te Maire Martin leave Penrith for the Cowboys last week but could not blame him for wanting to head north and develop his game around a player like Thurston.
"It sucks seeing him leave," Cleary said.
"I'm good mates with him but I was happy he could pursue that opportunity so hopefully he gets some game time up there because he's definitely good enough.
"Anyone playing under JT will appreciate that and he'll flourish under him."
There is no questioning Cleary's newest halves partner in Matt Moylan, with the Panthers skipper playing a huge role in the side's resurgence in the middle period of the season.
Moylan set up the Panthers' final two tries in three minutes to steal an unlikely victory over the Raiders in Round 14.
"He's been playing great footy and taking a bit of pressure off my game as well so hopefully we can continue to develop our combination," Cleary said.
"We knew that we didn't play well against the Raiders but to get away with the win was a confidence boost for us.
"The finish of that game was probably the most entertaining I've ever been apart of and to get that win going into the bye was huge for us moving into this next block of games."
This article first appeared on NRL.com.