«When you think about that situation with the father and son as the coach and player, or the coach and halfback, which means the more important player, they seem to be the perfect fit,» Alexander told the Herald.
«I’ve enjoyed watching it. It doesn’t seem unnatural.
«Every now and then when we’re chatting Nathan will say ,’dad’, or ‘dad said this’. It doesn’t happen often. But it makes you realise what the situation is. You tend to forget about it.
«It will be interesting to watch at half-time and full-time this year. But there’s no thought about it.»
Alexander was brought back into the fold by caretaker coach Cameron Ciraldo at the end of last season to work with Cleary and five-eighth James Maloney and has been given the chance to continue that association under Ivan.
At just 21 years of age and about to enter his third full season in the top flight, Cleary looks destined to achieve the last two remaining things eluding him — the Kangaroos No. 7 jersey and a premiership.
Even when you’re an Origin half there is still improvement, and I believe he will continue to improve
Greg Alexander on Nathan Cleary
Alexander, who also worked closely with the gifted playmaker in the NSW Origin team, said Cleary had tweaked a few things in attack.
«Even when you’re an Origin half there is still improvement, and I believe he will continue to improve for no other reason than he is one of those young players who has now played 50 first-grade games and knows more about the game,» Alexander said at the Fox League launch at the SCG earlier this week.
«Nathan is a rock-solid player. There are no real weaknesses. But he will work on little areas that might sharpen him up and make him a bit different — that make him be a better player this year than last year.
«Nathan is a great defender and a great kicker of the ball. But it’s all about recognising moments with the footy in attack, as a halfback you’re the man the team looks to to break down the defence and realise where the weaknesses are in the defensive line.
«They don’t present themselves often, but you need to be ready to take them.»
Penrith have bombed out in week two of the finals the past three years. Alexander said the young Panthers all now had plenty of games under their belt, and September experience, which would have them cherry-ripe for a title tilt.
In the halves alone they have genuine first-graders Tyrone May and Jarome Luai waiting for their shot to replace Cleary and his NSW partner James Maloney.
Jack Hetherington has been named to start in the back row on the left side of the field in place of the injured Billy Kikau.
After Corey Harawira-Naera and Tyrone Peachey left the club, the club’s back-row stocks suddenly appear thin. Even Trent Merrin, who went to England, would have allowed for a player like James Fisher-Harris to move to an edge.
As for Kikau, who is slated to return in round four from a knee injury suffered after just three minutes of a trial on a Redfern bog, Alexander said: «He’s arguably the most damaging edge player in the game and with his speed and size and offload ability, he leaves a huge hole. But it’s a long year, he’ll be out for four weeks of the season, and it’s a long year.»
Christian covers rugby league for The Sydney Morning Herald.