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Back yourself: Cleary's advice for Field

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 28/02/2017 Matt Encarnacion

He may be two months younger than Jai Field, but Penrith halfback Nathan Cleary has some words of wisdom for the St George-Illawarra rookie: Back yourself and play tough.

An 18-year-old Cleary wowed the rugby league fraternity last year when he marshalled the Panthers deep into the finals in his first 15 games in the NRL.

And while he admits the dreaded second-year syndrome weighs heavily in his mind ahead of Saturday's season-opener against the Dragons, he also had some advice for Field.

"He was on fire at the Auckland Nines, he's got speed to burn. You just need to back yourself if you get that opportunity and not really let everyone else do everything," Cleary told AAP.

"It's just that confidence aspect, and playing tough. That's the main difference from under-20s up to first grade. You can't really hide. Just need to be tough in defence and back yourself in attack."

Field was edged out of the halfback spot by veteran Josh McCrone but is likely to get his debut off the bench after being named in the No.17 jumper on Tuesday.

That means a probable face-off against Cleary, who was born 69 days after Field but has the weight of backing up a superb rookie campaign for the title contenders.

Cleary admits giving thought to a challenging second year that has claimed a number of youngsters who shot to stardom after ascending to the top grade.

"It's in the back of my head, the fact that it's something that's talked about," he said.

"But I just try not to think about it too much. I'm just focusing on doing my job for the team and if I do that, then hopefully second-year syndrome will be eliminated.

"I've got a lot of good players around me so I know my role and it's simple: Play tough and hard. If I keep working hard like I did last year, keep that same attitude, I should be right this year."

Cleary heads into the new season with a new halves partner in Te Maire Martin, who has fully recovered from a shoulder reconstruction and was named to take on the Dragons.

His return frees Bryce Cartwright to return to the second row.

"They're totally different players. Bryce is really skilful, he's a lot bigger. He just takes the backfoot role, he does what he wants and roams around," Cleary said.

"Te's obviously a bit smaller and that fast kind of player. I suppose both of them are playing the same role this year, just roam around the field and look for opportunities to open up."

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