Penrith Panthers star Nathan Cleary has one of Hazem El Masri’s most famous records in sight, and the game’s most prolific sharpshooter says the 20-year-old could claim his all-time scoring record as well.
Cleary is riding one of the Telstra Premiership’s hottest goal-kicking streaks, having nailed 29 straight goals in seven games since Penrith’s round 22 defeat of Wests Tigers last year.
El Masri famously set his NRL record with 35 consecutive goals during the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs’ 2003 season, while his predecessor Daryl Halligan is the only other man to register a longer run than Cleary’s 29.
Still less than two years into his top-grade career, Cleary has time on his side.
He boasts a career conversion rate of 86.78% and serious pedigree with his old man and current Tigers coach Ivan regarded as one of the best boots of the 1990s and early 2000s, a time in which he notched 1363 career points.
Last year Cleary’s season tally of 228 topped the NRL, crowning him the first teen to do so since South Sydney Rabbitohs legend Harold Horder 104 years earlier.
El Masri’s high watermark of 2418 NRL points is still an entire career away, and Melbourne Storm champion Cameron Smith (2197) will likely push that record along further if he plays beyond this season.
But the Bulldogs great is not the least bit surprised Cleary is already circling his slew of consecutive conversion streaks as he prepares for Saturday’s clash with South Sydney Rabbitohs.
“Records like that, they are going to be broken one day and at such a young age for Nathan, he’s kicking really well,” El Masri told NRL.com.
“Nath’s been kicking really well, you can tell he’s dedicated and the way he plays the game you can see he’s very mature.
“But if he doesn’t get it this time, eventually I think he’ll get it anyway. You learn from your mistakes and the next time he’ll be better prepared and hungrier and that’s exactly how it went for me.
“I had a streak of 24 or 25 before I missed one, and then eventually got there with the 35 anyway.
“… If Nathan stays injury free and consistently performing like the way he is, he could well end up getting that all-time point scoring record as well.
“He’s obviously got the talent and right now is putting in the hard work.”
That dedication was there for plenty to see on Tuesday, when Cleary was still putting in extras on his own as it rained cats and dogs at Panthers HQ.
Veteran halves partner James Maloney – who has been relegated to second-string kicker despite booting over 700 NRL goals – even yelled for Cleary to “go home” as he got into his own car, having already showered, changed and made for the exit with the rest of the Penrith squad after training.
Cleary’s fastidious approach to his entire game sees him work with goal-kicking coach Halligan once a fortnight, whose 30 straight goals in 1998 are now the only streak between Cleary and a couple of El Masri’s most impressive runs.
Panthers legend Greg Alexander also consults the youngster regarding his short-kicking game, while Damien Hill, who is employed by several NRL outfits as well as the Wallabies and Brumbies over the years, checks in every few weeks with general kicking advice.
Adding extra intrigue to Cleary’s recent streak, he missed a conversion attempt from out wide in the Panthers’ disappointing trial loss to Canterbury last month.
But with six from six off the tee in the round-one triumph over local rivals Parramatta Eels, Cleary is tracking El Masri once more.
El Masri was 28 when he equalled the world record (also 35) held by Bradford Bulls marksman Henry Paul, and is backing Cleary to hold his nerve should the chatter inevitably ramp up around his goal-kicking in coming weeks.
“That was the hardest thing, the media get a hold of the story and that noise about breaking the record, it does start to play up on your mind,” El Masri said.
“But with his maturity you think he’s about 25 or 26 to be honest, the way he plays and kicks. I think Ivan plays a fair bit in that and I think it would really help him and that mentoring really filters through.
“Again though, you can have all those people around you, but if you’re not doing the hard yakka, the hard work, it doesn’t matter.
“But you can just see it on the field, the passion he has and the way he plays the game.”