Cattermole was always renowned for his gritty style of play and his ability to sit in front of the back four, shield his defence and apply plenty of pressure without the ball.
However, speaking to Sky Sports, McClaren admits he never envisaged Cattermole becoming such a good footballer and says the midfielder has done 'terrifically well' for himself.
“He's done better than I thought he would do. He's done terrifically well," said McClaren. “We gave him his debut in a derby game and he was excellent, man of the match.
"To see him go on and become the kind of player - he's a good footballer as well - he's done very well. Very good."
Sunderland head into their derby clash with Newcastle winless in nine matches and currently posting the second-worst defensive record in this Premier League campaign.
However, under newly-appointed boss Sam Allardyce, the Black Cats will be expected to improve.
Cattermole will have a big part to play, not only this Sunday but for the remainder of the season. Alongside fellow defensive midfielder Yann M’Vila, the duo need to protect their back four much better.
Cattermole has made 130 Premier League appearances for Sunderland and after signing a five-year extension last July, there is every chance he could go on to double that tally by 2021.