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Nathan Cleary says rising playmakers should look to Mitchell Pearce's 'inspirational' Origin triumph as he puts aside his own representative disappointment to lead Penrith's unlikely finals charge.

Cleary will return for the Panthers in Friday's clash with St George Illawarra, having watched Pearce finally clinch a NSW series win last Wednesday from within the sky blue fold.

An ankle injury sustained in Origin II had Cleary racing the clock to be fit for the decider before Pearce was brought in as his replacement, the much-maligned No.7 throwing the key cut-out pass for James Tedesco's last-minute series-winning try.

Cleary tasted just a portion of the criticism Pearce has copped over the years after the Blues' game one loss.

Now ready to pull on the boots again with Penrith back in the top eight having sat equal last just two months ago, Cleary will draw on Pearce's ability to bounce back in his own football.

Blues etch their own miracle try into Origin folklore

"I'd be lying if [I said] it wasn't inspiring," Cleary said.

"I think any young halfback coming through needs to look at Mitch and see how well he's done overcoming adversity.

"To do that, I was really happy for him. It shows a lot about him and his character.

"He's obviously overcome a lot throughout his career and overcome a lot of criticism.

"I guess it shows the good head space he's in at the moment to throw that pass and ultimately win the game for NSW.

"The fact that Mitch was the one that came in and got to experience a series win for the first time and play so well it made [sitting out through injury] a lot easier for me."

While Cleary returns for Penrith, the Dragons will rest big money halfback Ben Hunt after he played Queensland's entire campaign at hooker.

There's no such break for veteran Panther James Maloney, who was putting his hand up for last week's Titans clash with just a 48-hour turnaround from the Blues' thrilling Origin win.

Maloney's leadership leaves Penrith in good stead according to Cleary, regardless of whether the 33-year-old sees out the final 12 months of his deal or departs early for a Super League swansong.

Maloney has openly discussed his desire to play on in the UK at the end of his current contract, while both he and Penrith are open to bringing an NRL exit forward if the right offer presents.

The two-time premiership winner has attracted interest from both Leeds Rhinos and Catalans Dragons, but neither club has tabled an offer as yet.

Cleary: I could've played Origin

"I love playing alongside Jimmy and everyone really enjoys having Jimmy around the club," Cleary said.

"It's his decision around what he wants to do but I think either way we're in a good position with Jarome [Luai] coming through, he's playing some really good footy.

"But if he does decide to stay then I'll be really happy and everyone else has.

"If he did leave he's definitely left a mark on this club and this team, just with the knowledge he brings and his leadership which is something he's really developed the last two years with so many young boys.

"We've been really lucky to have Jimmy at the club."

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New South Wales Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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