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Fittler Medal winner Cleary to use near-misses as fuel for 2021

NSW halfback Nathan Cleary knows he has to get better if he is going to turn a 2020 season filled with missed opportunities into future success.

The Blues and Penrith No.7 put himself in a position to claim three of rugby league’s biggest prizes in 2020 – a Dally M medal, NRL premiership and Origin series triumph – but instead walked away with nothing.

There was one piece of good news for Cleary - he was named winner of the Brad Fittler Medal as the best Blues player throughout the Origin series.

As well as Cleary's award - the Blues handed out two other awards. Daniel Saifiti won the True Blue Award and Hannah Southwell was named Women's Origin player of the year.

Canberra’s Jack Wighton pipped him by two votes to claim the Dally M, Melbourne triumphed over Penrith in the grand final and Queensland defied the odds to secure the Origin decider at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday night.

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The 23-year-old knows just how close he came to achieving one of the best seasons by a young playmaker. Although it was hard to hide his disappointment in the moment, the desire to reach those pinnacles in 2021 is already strong.

"Yeah 2020 as a whole has just been a rollercoaster really," Cleary said.

"Rode the highs and lows, that’s rugby league. Unfortunately, I’ve lost some pretty big games in the last month or so but that will just fuel next year and I will enjoy the journey.

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"I’m very grateful for the position I am in and look forward to getting better and improve each year. I think any loss is hard to take especially in a decider.

"I thought some of our defence especially in the second half was amazing but we’re disappointed not to get the win and we have to take a lot out of that and learn from it and get better."

If Cleary is to take any positives away from the Origin series, it was how he responded when put under enormous external pressure.

His position in the team came under scrutiny ahead of his man of the match performance in Origin II and although he didn’t get many opportunities in the decider, his kicking game was superb and often looked likely to create chances.

What Origin and the grand final showed is that in Cleary and Queensland’s Cameron Munster, rugby league has two excitement machines set to dominate for club and state in the coming seasons.

"[Munster] is a freak and a great player and always shows up on the biggest stage too," Cleary said. "I’ve got nothing but high praise for him.

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"I think there will be some great series coming up over the next few years. Hopefully, I get to be a part of it because both teams have some good young players coming through and it will be exciting."

Cleary said winning the Fittler Medal was something he would cherish.

"I would have loved to have won it off the back of series win but it’s a great honour and I’m very grateful for the opportunity to have played in the series," he said.

"It’s been crazy month - I’ve lost two of the biggest games of my life, there were a lot of lessons learned but its really put the fire in my belly for next year."