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Joel Gould

Cleary channels Johns in stellar GF display: Lockyer

Nathan Cleary's heroics in the NRL grand final reminded Darren Lockyer of Andrew Johns in his pomp. (Mark Evans/AAP PHOTOS)

Brisbane legend Darren Lockyer has likened Penrith half Nathan Cleary's grand final performance to Andrew Johns at his magical best.

The Panthers trailed 24-8 against the Broncos at Accor Stadium on Sunday night before Cleary stepped up to wrap up a third consecutive NRL title.

Cleary set up a try for prop Moses Leota, instigated another for centre Stephen Crichton after landing a sensational 40/20, then scored himself to secure a 26-24 win for the ages.

Lockyer said the Clive Churchill medallist owned the result of the decider in the same way eighth Immortal Johns did 18 years ago

"I remember in 2005 when Joey (Johns) kicked a 40/20 here in Origin and then he just went on a roll," former Broncos captain Lockyer said.

"It was like that with Cleary. Isaah Yeo is in the HIA. Jarome Luai is out (injured). Cleary takes them on himself. It was a ridiculous performance by him."

Lockyer said 25-year-old Cleary was now in elite company after matching the feat of Parramatta great Peter Sterling, who was the last No.7 to win three straight premierships from 1981-83.

"Nathan has got eight years to go, maybe more. His legacy already is enormous," Lockyer said.

"Maybe with Origin he wants to tick a few more boxes but in terms of club halfbacks the last bloke to do that was Sterling.

"It is incredible, and I don't know if a bloke like Sterlo won a game like that on his own in the 1980s. Cleary won that game. Penrith didn't win that. Nathan Cleary did."

Lockyer said Cleary grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck.

"He was the only option. I was watching the game thinking, 'We have only got to keep him quiet and we have got this'," the former Bronco said.

Penrith coach Ivan Cleary said "that is high praise to come from Locky" before explaining what drove his son

"There would not be a player in the NRL that works harder than Nathan," he told AAP.

"Like Locky, he debuted at a young age and played Origin when he was 20. He went through a lot of ups and downs in big games and all those experiences led him to tonight.

"He didn't start the second half well but back in 2020 (in the grand final loss to Melbourne) he didn't play well. He was a bit rattled and got it going towards the end, but it was too late.

"Tonight he leant on all those experiences, backed himself and was good enough to get it done."

Nathan practically willed his team to victory as Johnathan Thurston did for North Queensland in the 2015 decider.

"I thought about that this week. Thursto' he is a bit similar to. They are both clutch. I'm not saying he is as good as Thursto', but he just knew he had to do it," Ivan said, adding Jack Cogger combined well with Cleary Jr after substituting for Luai at five-eighth.

"I thought Jack Cogger was outstanding. He had a big say in it. They complemented each other."

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