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17 STARS OF 2017 | Nathan Cleary

Simon Masterton (Twitter: @OiSimmo)

SPITTING IMAGE: Looking just like father Ivan, Nathan Cleary has made the most of his NRL opportunity so far.
SPITTING IMAGE: Looking just like father Ivan, Nathan Cleary has made the most of his NRL opportunity so far.

To kick off 2017, we take a look at some of the up-and-coming male and female stars who will hope to represent NSW this year and in the future. Today we look at a young player who took little time to step out of his father's shadow: Nathan Cleary.

When you steer your club to Week Two of the finals as the youngest player in the NRL, you’re bound to turn a few heads.

Nathan Cleary began his Rugby League journey with the aim of making a name of his own, outside of his father Ivan, a talented fullback and centre of yesteryear. With scintillating form in the Holden Cup – he finished third on 2016’s season’s point-scoring list… from just 10 games – Cleary’s NRL dream seemed inevitable. When fellow exciting young playmaker Te Maire Martin went down with injury in April and hooker James Segeyaro was dumped from the Panthers’ squad in June, it opened the door for Cleary and he immediately set the competition alight with two tries and impressive playmaking from his opening three games. Still just 18 years of age, Cleary would play every minute for the remainder of the year, even keeping Martin out of a spot and making eight try-assists in the process.

Now 19, Cleary’s immediate future is secured with a contract extension until the end of the 2019 season. The former Australian Schoolboys captain can still play Holden Cup next year but is unlikely to do so, demonstrating maturity beyond his years and an ability to control an NRL game. His eligibility for NSW has not gone unnoticed and was named as part of the NSW Emerging Blues squad for 2017, while many fans hope he can be the next great playmaker to deliver the VB Blues State of Origin glory.