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24 Feb 2018 19:09
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  •   Home > News > Sports

    Panthers' cubs living the NRL dream

    Penrith halves Nathan Cleary and Tyrone May used to dream of being NRL stars, now they're living it.


    Nathan Cleary and Tyrone May started from the bottom, now they're here.

    Before the Penrith Panthers cubs run onto Suncorp Stadium for their knock-out NRL semi-final against Brisbane on Friday night, they'd be forgiven for pinching themselves.

    Rewind three years and they were shoulder-to-shoulder, cutting their teeth with the Panthers SG Ball side.

    Together they dared to dream.

    They confided in each other their desire to make it to the NRL and shared their hopes for a big future.

    They had Snapchat conversations jokingly comparing themselves to the game's stars like Greg Inglis and Shaun Johnson.

    And now that they're living that dream together, it feels a touch surreal.

    "We both talked about it when we were younger, how cool it would be to play first-grade," 19-year-old Cleary told AP.

    "And to be in a semi-final, it doesn't get much better than that.

    "It's pretty cliche but it did happen when we were younger.

    "Now that we're playing together, it's kind of hard to believe.

    "I think I've played about 40 games now and I still pinch myself that I'm actually playing in the NRL."

    May, Cleary's 21-year-old halves partner, likewise finds it hard to fathom.

    "I remember we were on Snapchat, we were always joking around about it -- about us playing together," May said.

    "Now we just pinch ourselves. But we just try to do the best we can, give it a good crack.

    "We were comparing him to Shaun Johnson and I'd say 'well I'll be Greg Inglis' -- give ourselves NRL player names.

    "It was all a muck around and now it's come around."

    In Cleary and May, the Panthers have cause for optimism for years to come.

    Even with skipper Matt Moylan's future uncertain -- and escalating rumours he is headed to a rival Sydney club next year as he addresses personal issues -- their rise this year would give coach Anthony Griffin reason to feel comfortable with his squad.

    Both are local juniors -- Cleary is a product of Brothers Penrith -- and the Panthers have already stated their desire to lock him up a long-term deal well into next decade.

    May is a Minchinbury Jets junior and has lived in Mt Druitt his entire life.

    He and Cleary first played together in the Panthers under-18s before starring in the National Youth Competition side.

    During the under-20s May played every position on the field except front-row.

    He made his debut at centre, moved to the wing, fullback, back row but settled into the halves.

    For now, he sees his immediate future in the No.6 jersey but predicts he could move into the back row one day once he adds some muscle and extra weight to his 189cm, 95kg frame.

    Many have already written off the Panthers this year, dismissed them as being too inexperienced -- Cleary and May have just 48 first-grade games between them.

    However, the familiarity which has come with playing alongside each other for years has helped them both make the jump into the big time.

    "As soon as he got his opportunity, he took it with both hands," Cleary said of May.

    "He's been killing it and his defence, he's totally up to it."

    "Sometimes it's hard to adjust to different halves partners, especially if you haven't played together before.

    "With me and T-May playing those couple of years in 20s and SG Ball together, it did help when he came through up into first grade.

    "Even though the jump from 20s to first-grade is such a big jump, I think that combination was there already."


    NZN




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