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Talking Points, Nathan Cleary, Waqa Blake, Dylan Edwards, Penrith Panthers beat Parramatta Eels

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Nathan Cleary is on track to go down as the greatest ever, while the Eels will rue a costly Waqa Blake blunder and Dylan Edwards sealed a World Cup berth.

Meanwhile, the Eels face a tough ask to keep their premiership window open amid a looming exodus.

Read on for all the key Grand Final talking points.

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How far can the Panthers’ dynasty go? | 02:11


Nathan Cleary is on a career trajectory to joining and even surpassing the greatest players to ever play the game after leading Penrith to back-to-back titles.

Cleary has been the halfback at the helm of three straight grand final appearances and Cooper Cronk believes if he keeps producing at the same level for the next seven years there might be no player ahead of him.

“Will he be one of the best we have ever seen?” Yvonne Sampson asked.

“It is hard to say because he is just starting,” Cronk said.

“He is 24 years of age. What is he going to do for the next 10 years?


‘TEARS POURING DOWN’: Cleary shows ‘different side’ in emotional release

PANTHERS RATINGS: Edwards’ perfect 10 as Cleary and To’o shine in ruthless rout

EELS RATINGS: Big men MIA as suffocated halves taught brutal grand final lesson

‘ANATOMY OF A BLITZ’: Panthers’ flawless 40 minutes laid bare in Eels blitz

Nathan Cleary celebrates back-to-back grand final wins.Source: Getty Images

“Well if he keeps doing what he has done well good luck, there is no one else in front of him.

“That’s the key. When you go from great to elite it is a logbook of work over more than 10 years.

“Nathan has done it for three years now. If he does it for another seven then you are talking Cameron Smith and Joey Johns and Johnathan Thurston.

“I think the most impressive part about Penrith to me is there seems to be no ego in the way they go about it.

“They all play a role to complement one another and they are happy for whoever is the star player to be the star player.

“I thought Nathan Cleary was there for most of it in the Grand Final. I tell you what you would love to be a Penrith Panther player right now.”

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Penrith are back-to-back Premiers! | 02:39


Fox League’s Michael Ennis believes Dylan Edwards has booked a spot on the plane to England in Mal Meninga’s Kangaroos squad.

Penrith’s fullback came away with the Clive Churchill Medal after a stellar performance, recording 228 running metres, two try assists and four tackle breaks.

While Roosters gun James Tedesco is a near certainty to wear the No.1 jersey, Fox League’s Cooper Cronk believes one moment could see Edwards included in the squad.

The 26-year-old produced a tackle eerily similar to that of Panthers legend Scott Sattler in the club’s 2003 grand final victory.

Edwards charged across the field to drag Eels centre Bailey Simonsson out in a tackle that mirrored Sattler’s on Todd Byrne.

“I think some players make a name for themselves on grand final day, with respect, Tedesco is your fullback, but he deserves it,” Cronk said.

“From what he has done, he deserves to be in and around it, because you pick players on form, he has been outstanding.”

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Dylan Edwards is set to debut for Australia at the World Cup.Source: Getty Images

Fox League’s Yvonne Sampson believes it is a case of wrong place, wrong time for Edwards.

With a number of elite fullbacks across the competition, Edwards may struggle to don a representative jumper, sitting behind James Tedesco, Latrell Mitchell and Tom Trbojevic.

“It just happens to be, we are in an era where we are so flush for fullback talent in the representative arena, for the Kangaroos for the Blues,” Sampson said.

“Dylan Edwards unfortunately just timing wise, he is just elite in his own capacity but might just not get there with the Blues when you have someone like Tedesco.”

While he may not play any minutes abroad, Ennis believes Edwards is the perfect replacement due to his combinations with Nathan Cleary and Isaah Yeo who are set to line-up for the Kangaroos.

“Tom Trbojevic being out certainly helps his cause, the fact Latrell Mitchell can play in the centres if Mal decides to take Latrell,” Ennis said.

“When you go over there, it is a rep team, you are picking players to play for your country who are your best players and you’d imagine Dylan Edwards has been one of the best players in the competition this year.

“His performance tonight, he was the best on ground in an NRL grand final, World Cup around the corner, you will take a squad of what 24 or 25.

“Cooper is right, Tedesco is your fullback, but if something happens to Tedesco, you want someone there who can fit straight in and who is reliable in big games, who has got combinations with Cleary and Isaah Yeo.

“Absolutely he should be going.”

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Has Edwards secured a Kangaroos callup? | 02:02


Cooper Cronk believes the Eels “were trying to hide” winger Waqa Blake after he dropped four Nathan Cleary bombs in week one of the finals.

The former Panther’s position was under fire after the performance, but coach Brad Arthur decided to stick with the 27-year-old through the finals series.

Blake revealed he was expecting to be targeted by the Panthers, however Cronk believes Arthur made a “coaching mistake” by keeping him on the wing.

“I think Waqa Blake had some nervous times in week one of Nathan Cleary’s bombs,” Cronk said.

“I sensed at the start of that game, they were trying to hide Waqa Blake, Gutherson was covering for a lot of their kicks, this is me picking it apart.”

The Eels tried to hide Waqa Blake.Source: Getty Images

Cronk, who played in nine grand finals, knows what it takes to win premierships.

He believes teams “can’t carry anyone” when competing for the NRL’s top gong – and the best players sniff out any “fear” in their opposition.

“In a grand final you can’t carry anyone, you need to throw him in and say ‘catch the ball Waqa’,” Cronk said.

“And I think that was maybe a coaching mistake there, trying to hide him in terms of what Nathan did because once players sense there is a bit of fear in the opposition, that can be opened up in any way shape or form.

“I think that is where it was lost, but tough year, it is difficult to come back from but don’t underestimate the motivation of losing.”

When picking Waqa Blake goes wrong | 01:20


Rugby league legend Billy Slater believes it is now up to the Eels playing group to “continue on this run” and keep the club’s premiership window open.

With a number of players leaving, many pundits believed it was now or never to break Parramatta’s 36-year premiership drought.

Marata Niukore (Warriors), Isaiah Papali’i (Wests Tigers), Oregon Kaufusi (Sharks), Reed Mahoney (Bulldogs), Ray Stone (Dolphins), Tom Opacic (Hull KR) and Hayze Perham (released) make up the list of departing players.

While the Eels welcome Josh Hodgson, J’maine Hopgood and Jirah Momoisea in 2023, the mass exodus has many doubting the club’s ability to cut it with the best.

Slater, who featured in seven grand finals, believes it is now up to the players to bounce back, while Bulldogs supremo Phil Gould explained it will come down to the club’s development.

Reed Mahoney is one of several Eels leaving the club.Source: Getty Images

“That is up to them, that is not up to us, that is up to them whether their premiership window is closed or not,” Slater said on Channel 9’s coverage.

“I have heard many times that clubs are on the slide and they still stay at the top, and it is up to them whether they want to continue on this run.

“It is a test of your development and what is to come underneath, like what the Panthers have been doing and it has produced enormous results,” Gould said.

“Other clubs, what have they been doing behind the scenes in development, bringing through the next wave of players and giving them their opportunity.”

“And the inner character of the players that remain,” Slater added.

“That is the big one, how much will it drive Mitchell Moses and Dylan Brown.”


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