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Nathan hopes to play against boyhood idol

Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary says tonight's clash hopefully will finally represent the chance to play against one of his boyhood idols, Benji Marshall.

Despite being named at halfback, Marshall is no certainty given his indifferent form for the Broncos in last week’s qualifying clash against the Roosters, with Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett under pressure to change things up, especially with key fullback Darius Boyd (hamstring) ruled out of tonight's clash.

But Cleary believes Benji showed enough last Friday night to warrant another chance as Anthony Milford’s halves partner, given the way his game evolved from when Cleary grew up watching the former Tiger tearing opposition defences to pieces.

“I’ve never played against him (Benji) but I think any young guy around my age coming up through the ranks has always kind of watched Benji, he’s a freak,” Cleary declared.

“I wouldn’t say I modeled my game too much off him because some of the stuff he can do I can only dream of that.

“I was kind of thinking about it last night, even his defence has really sharpened up.

“He was great in defence last night and I thought his kicking game was good and his game continues to evolve.

“We’ll have to be on our toes with him.”

Photos: 77 Media

Despite last Saturday's strong bounce back win against Manly, that has allowed them the opportunity to play Brisbane for the right to oppose Melbourne for a grand final berth, Cleary concedes that the team will need to play better against a side that showed plenty of resilience despite being outplayed for much of their clash the previous night against the Roosters.

“That was a massive win for us especially being able to turn around last week which we can take a lot of confidence out of,” Cleary replied.

“We put a lot into our start in the first twenty minutes.

“Last week we kind of got ambushed and we were on the back foot for the rest of the game.

“But (this time) we got off to a better start and we dominated the game.

“But in the finals we’ve got to improve each week and while there was some good things (against Manly) there were some scrappy things too that hopefully we can clean up before Friday night.”

“Brisbane are a really resilient team. I think the Roosters kind of had all the running in that first half and for them to come back in that second half, it was a pretty impressive effort.

“It will be kind of difficult to find the technical things wrong during the week but we can’t take a backward step with them.”

The Broncos are expecting a crowd of between 40 and 50,000 for the clash.

But Cleary believes that, having now played finals at some daunting venues including last year’s finals clash with Canberra that featured the Viking Clap, will hold him in good stead for the cauldron-like atmosphere Suncorp will provide.

“I played last year down in Canberra and that was pretty daunting with the Viking clap but playing up at Suncorp, it’s on a whole another level,” Cleary admitted.

“We played there earlier this year and it was an awesome atmosphere but in finals I think it will be ten times better again.

“They (finals) are not the easiest to prepare for. Manly was my third one (final) and all of them have been the toughest games I have played and I think up at Suncorp it won’t be any different.

“But I’m the halfback of the team and I think if I can control the game early then the boys can gain some confidence for the rest of the game.”

#NathanCleary #NRLBroncosPanthers #NRLFinals #PenrithPanthers #RugbyLeague

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