Nathan Cleary wouldn't be here if his old man was still at Penrith. And we know this because, well, he told us.

Asked by The Daily Telegraph if Panthers coach Anthony Griffin had played him earlier than dad would have, the rookie laughed: "Yep.

"Yeah, definitely.

"I think there would have been too much controversy around my old man playing me. So I guess it was a silver lining there ... for me to create my own path."


Honestly, who writes this stuff?

Nine months after Ivan Cleary was punted as Penrith head coach, his 18-year-old son suddenly emerges as the surprise halfback who reignites their 2016 season.

Appearing in only his second NRL game - and in place of veteran Jamie Soward, no less - the teenage No. 7 scored one try and played a key hand in two more.

All up, earning the highest honour any first grader can ask for - Players Player.

Speaking for the first time afterwards about his father's axing, young Cleary said: "It was definitely hard.

"Especially finding out, it was a rude shock. But, you know, that happens in footy. You have to move on and dad's definitely moved on. There is no use moping about it ... you just have to look to the future."

Which for Cleary, is now.

"It was unreal. A dream come true," he continued of the incredible comeback, which saw Penrith score 27 points in 29 minutes.

"I've been watching the NRL since I was about two. So to get my first win, and get it in that fashion, was just unreal.

"I've never felt like this after a game. Even in life ... this is the best feeling ever."
Better, it came with Dad watching on from the Brookvale Oval hill.

"I was actually running out and saw him up on the big screen," Cleary laughed. "Most of my family is from out this way so it was awesome to get the win in front of them.

"And Dad, he's definitely supportive. He just tries to tip me up on little things.

"Obviously having been at the club he knows how most of the players play, what they like.
So he's been good in that way. But he's never too pushy, just lets me do my thing."

While Cleary was outstanding, for the opening 40 minutes it looked as if Manly No. 6 Dylan was destined to earn Man of the Match honours.

Apart from scoring two tries in the first half, the contentious NSW Origin interchange player also booted four goals - to have the Sea Eagles up 20-4 at the break.

"I thought he was terrific," Manly coach Trent Barrett said afterwards. "I thought he showed in that first half what I've seen and known all along.

"He (Walker) has been bashed from pillar to post by everyone saying he's not this or he's not that. Well, I think we saw some glimpses of what he can do when things are going well.

"And in the first half things were going well.

"He got put in positions where he could do those things that he does. He's a footballer."