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Panthers rally around Cleary after star ruled out of Origin

Penrith players have vowed to rally around a “heartbroken” Nathan Cleary after confirmation that the star playmaker’s latest hamstring injury will ruled him out of the Origin series.

Scans revealed a Grade 2 hamstring tear, which will sideline Cleary for eight weeks.

Cleary, who would have been one of the first players chosen by new Blues coach Michael Maguire, has played just 118 minutes since Round 3 after coming from the field just before halftime in Friday night’s 16-10 defeat of the Bulldogs.

The Panthers superstar was a forlorn sight as he left BlueBet Stadium with team-mates but halves partner Jarome Luai said players had assured Cleary that the three-times premiers would keep winning in his absence.

“He is sort of heartbroken in a way,” Luai said.

A "shattered" Nathan Cleary comes from BlueBet Stadium after suffering a recurrence of his hamstring injury.
A "shattered" Nathan Cleary comes from BlueBet Stadium after suffering a recurrence of his hamstring injury. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

“I spoke to him after and his spirits are pretty down, so we’ll do whatever we can do to bring that energy up, give him some confidence that he'll be back there at the end of the year, give him confidence that we'll be there at the end of the yea and we'll be ready for his return.”

Asked if Cleary was most upset because of the timing of his latest injury setback or because he had been unable to overcome the ongoing hamstring problem, Luai said: “He's done it three times in a row now so it will be frustrating for him”.

Cleary suffers recurrence of hamstring injury

The NSW team will be named in two weeks for Origin I at Accor Stadium on June 5 and Cleary was set to be the Blues halfback, but Luai said his first priority would be avoiding a further recurrence of the injury.

“It's not really about Origin, it's about his well-being and about his health at the end of the day,” Luai said.

“He loves his footy and he wants to play with the boys. He just wants to play footy with the boys in general, so it's about him and his mind now, and his well-being.

“I feel for him, I know what he’s feeling, but we've got good energy amongst this team, and we'll get it running for sure.”

Panthers coach Ivan Cleary was resigned to Nathan being out for an extended period when he addressed the media after Friday night's match.

Cleary missed five weeks, returned against the Cowboys, had a week off against the Rabbitohs and lasted 38 minutes against the Bulldogs.

Ivan provides the latest on Nathan's injury

"He's pretty shattered actually. It's very disappointing for him. I'm torn between his coach and his dad right now,” Cleary said. “He felt it straight away, so he knew, so that suggests it's decent."

The injury to Cleary follows the loss of Tom Trbojevic (hamstring) and Cameron Murray (hip) for NSW, but Parramatta halfback Mitchell Moses is due to return next weekend after a long lay-off with a broken jaw.

Concern for Turbo

Panthers co-captain and fellow Origin star Isaah Yeo said losing Cleary would be a blow, but he was confident the Blues had the depth to cover for him.

“I’m not sure of the time frame but Madge, at the start of the pre-season in February, bought in a 36-man squad so he understands that things like this happen,” Yeo said.

“Tommy Trbojevic went down, as well, and there’s been other players since then so that’s why 36 players were picked for that because obviously injuries happen, particularly at this time of the year.

“We have got all the confidence in the world that the boys who go in will do a good job.”

Panthers v Bulldogs – Round 10, 2024

Luai is also in contention for NSW selection and he said in the lead up to the Bulldogs game that he had “unfinished business” after being dropped for Souths five-eighth Cody Walker in Origin III last year.

“Jarome has obviously been there before, he has won a series before and he has played a lot of games for NSW, so he’d do a wonderful job,” Yeo said.

With Penrith’s back-up halfback Brad Schneider injuring his knee in NSW Cup, Luai is expected to partner with rookie five-eighth Jack Cole until Cleary returns.

Cole played in Luai’s absence due to a shoulder injury during the World Club Series loss to Wigan and was on the bench against the Bulldogs, so he replaced Cleary.

“I tried to play [Cleary’s] role, I wasn't too good, but I'll double down this week and he'll be in my ear helping me out with whatever role I’ve got to play next week, so I'll make sure I'll be better,” Luai said.

“I'll put in the reps this week, put in some overtime and video and stuff like that, and get Nate’s advice on how I can be better in that role.

“Mentally, coming into the season, I had a very big injury and surgery, and didn't really have much pre-season, so just breaking that mental barrier early on in the year was a big challenge for myself, but I’m feeling a lot more like myself right now.”

Acknowledgement of Country

Penrith Panthers players and staff respect and honour the traditional custodians of the land and pay our respects to their elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.