Time in coaches' box helps reinvigorate Nathan Cleary

James Gourley/AAP PHOTOS

Nathan Cleary credits two long-term lay-offs for helping him see the game through his father's eyes on the road to back-to-back NRL premierships with Penrith.

Now, the star halfback is hoping he can use the lessons learned from another stint on the sidelines as the Panthers push for Australian rugby league's first three-peat in 40 years.

Penrith held their collective breath in June 2021 after it was revealed Cleary had suffered a serious shoulder injury playing for NSW in the second State of Origin match.

The injury initially appeared to threaten Cleary's season but the halfback avoided surgery, nursing back to strength and guiding the Panthers to a drought-breaking premiership.

Again in 2022, they had to make do without their general at a critical point of the season after he received a five-match ban for a spear tackle on Parramatta's Dylan Brown in round 20.

Cleary missed the remainder of the regular season but Penrith did not skip a beat when he returned for the charge to another grand-final victory.

The 25-year-old said missing time was not always a bad thing if it meant entering the finals fresh.

"As much as you don't want to be missing games, sometimes it's good to kind of break up the year," he said.

"It ends up being a massive year if you play every game and every Origin game.

"It's worked well for me but I don't think dad (coach Ivan Cleary) is too happy about me missing all that time each year."

Cleary found himself in familiar territory when he went down with a hamstring injury mid-game in early June and was required to miss six weeks of football.

But far from scuppering their season, the Panthers are now only one win away from a fourth consecutive grand-final appearance, having won seven of eight matches since Cleary's return.

Cleary credited another stint in the coaches' box alongside his father for renewing his tactical nous.

"That's been the coolest thing about the last three years is gaining that different perspective from the coach's point of view," he said.

"Seeing the game from up high, it's a lot different. You see what things are working and what things you can try out.

"That's the important part that if you do have time off or you are injured, you're using it the right way and trying to get better. I've had that mindset for the last three years."

For Cleary, the challenge is taking those lessons back onto the field as Penrith look to become the first team of the NRL era to win three consecutive titles.

"It's obviously much harder when you're fatigued and you don't have that birds eye view of what's going on," he said.