No Cleary? No worries.
Sean O’Sullivan’s maiden appearance in Panthers colours was more than five years in the making but ended in the same old result for the defending premiers to start the season.
With two try assists, three line break assists and 385 kick metres, O’Sullivan’s homecoming quickly put to bed any fear the side would struggle without Cleary and the loss of Matt Burton.
A relieved O’Sullivan admitted post-match following Thursday night’s season opener he was a “nervous wreck” at the thought of replacing injured halfback Nathan Cleary.
While the rugby league world knew the 23-year-old was the new No.7 on Tuesday, O’Sullivan revealed he had known for weeks earlier, enabling him to keep a relatively low-key club debut.
“It shows his commitment to the team and the club that he kept it in-house,” Panthers coach Ivan Cleary said.
“I was really happy for him, I could see he was nervous the last couple of days. All eyes were going to be on him but he just did what he is good at. I thought he did really well.
“He prepared for this game the last three months, probably longer than that.
“He’s going to have to back it up again next week, get his head down and take all in these accolades everyone will give him, which I’m sure he will.”
After starting out his career in Penrith’s junior system, where he’s overcome back-to-back ACL injuries, O’Sullivan was lured away to the Roosters, where his father Peter O’Sullivan was the club’s recruitment manager.
He moved to Brisbane for two seasons, playing in eight games, before he was part of the Warriors last season.
In 2022, he’s one of three local Panthers juniors to have returned home.
“He has been in a few systems and he is a footy head and loves the game and loves learning,” Cleary said.
“He has just done everything we have asked of him. He trained really well and he played like he prepared.
“I thought all our experienced guys played well, which allows blokes like that to just do their thing, but I thought he was outstanding right throughout the 80 minutes.
“He battled through cramps late which was courageous and he still got his job done.”
Cleary: We missed one minute