Cleeland pushing for Bulldogs debut
Back-up Canterbury playmaker Josh Cleeland is quietly putting together a very impressive resume of NRL mentors as he continues his search for an elusive Telstra Premiership debut.
The 26-year-old Ipswich product won an Intrust Super Cup grand final under the Walker brothers, Ben and Shane, in 2015, before spending the 2016 season learning from premiership halves combination James Maloney and Chad Townsend at Cronulla.
His 2017 shift to Belmore taught him plenty about fight and competitiveness from the feisty Josh Reynolds, while the fleet-footed Moses Mbye helped him hone his already dangerous running game.
Now, heading into 2018 and hoping to finally earn an NRL start, Cleeland gets the chance to add Kiwi international Kieran Foran to his burgeoning list of mentors.
"He's a really good player and really good bloke," Cleeland said.
"He's played Tests, he's got experience and it would be good just to get a few pointers off him when he gets on the field. It will help my game a lot.
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"Hopefully I can get down and have a coffee with him and pick his brain and see if I can get a few ideas."
It's not just Foran that Cleeland is looking to emulate.
"It's been [an] interesting [few years]," he said.
"Ipswich was more of a touch footy kind of thing, it's exciting and you had a lot of fun. Coming down to the Sharks and learning some structure was always going to be a different game because I'd never played structure before so that was my first year.
"It was definitely hard. I had Chad and Maloney there helping me out. I had to write down plays just to get it in my head and understand what it means and all that kind of stuff.
"After that year I came to the Dogs, it came easier talking to 'Grubby' [Reynolds] and Moses and hopefully this is the year coming up [that I can debut]."
The steepest learning curve was no doubt the first year going from an Intrust team to a full-time NRL set-up at the Sharks.
"Especially at Sharks with Chad and Maloney's kicking game, they really put a lot into their kicking so it taught me a lot there, even just the way to kick the ball, we didn't really practise that at Ipswich too much," Cleeland said.
"It really got me grounded and understanding the way to kick then coming to the Bulldogs and learning off Grubby, the way to play hard and fast and play with pride in your jersey and Moses, same thing, speed and skill. It's all been good and just trying to fit it into my game."
Cleeland was consistently dangerous in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW for the Bulldogs in 2017, cutting through defences on a regular basis with his dangerous running game and setting up plenty of four-pointers for his teammates.
Given Canterbury's attacking woes at the top level, Cleeland's performances didn't go unnoticed by fans with plenty of the blue and white faithful questioning why he wasn't at least given a shot once the club's finals hopes slipped away.
Cleeland was diplomatic about his non-selection, and simply hoped for a chance to prove he can cut it in the NRL arena under incoming coach Dean Pay.
"It's always exciting getting a new coach. It makes it a level playing ground with the boys so it makes it more, everyone's playing for spots to it makes it more exciting at training," Cleeland said.
"I was always hoping I'd get [a debut] last year but it didn't come. I'm putting that in the back of my head trying to get this year under way with a pretty good start so hopefully I go pretty well in pre-season and do everything [Pay] wants and learn off Foran and a few of the other boys there.
"There's a bit of a change-up in the team. I don't know if anything's been concreted yet. I don't know if he wants to play Foran as a half [then I'm a chance] as a five-eighth or he could go with [Matt] Frawley or Moses ... there's a few options he can choose, I think it will come down to pre-season and see what he's thinking."