PLAYERS | Nathan Cleary

Panther 560

137 matches [2016-2022]

1215 points [49 tries, 499 goals, 10 field goals] 


The son of current coach Ivan Cleary, he was a St. Dominics junior who was in the 2015 Under 20s premiership squad (although he did not play in the grand final opting to play for the Junior Kangaroos instead).

In 2016, he was promoted to the NSW Cup squad, but within weeks he was named to make his NRL debut, as a last-minute replacement at five-eighth. He shifted to halfback in the next match, and at just 18 years old he very quickly took control of the team with a composure of a more seasoned veteran. His accurate goal kicking also saw him as the club’s top point scorer at seasons end.

In 2017, Cleary finished the season as the competitions top point scorer, being the youngest player to do so since 1913. He also topped the charts as the club’s top try scorer, with 11. He also made his senior representative debut, being named at halfback for City in the last ever City-Country origin match.

Cleary suffered a knee injury just three rounds into the 2018 season but returned in time to be selected to make his debut for New South Wales in the State of Origin series. He was a solid performer in the Blues’ first series win since 2014. Whilst he would not be the club’s top point scorer for 2018, he was still quite accurate with the boot, and his two field goals guided the Panthers to two one-point victories, one of them in golden point.

Making 21 appearances in 2019, he retained his incumbency with the Blues and finished the club’s top point scorer which was boosted with a club record breaking haul of 34 points from 4 tries and 9 goals in the final round 54-10 thrashing of Newcastle.

In 2020 he was copped a two match suspension for biosecurity breaches during the COVID-19 enforced season break in April, but returned in Round 5 and formed a lethal combination with five-eighth partner Jarome Luai as the Panthers finished the season as minor premiers. His form saw him tagged the best player in the competition, however missed out on the Dally M medal, but would be awarded the Merv Cartwright Medal. In the grand final loss to the Melbourne Storm, in what was his 100th NRL appearance, he became the outright third highest point scorer for Penrith, only behind Ryan Girdler and Greg Alexander. He also retained his spot for NSW in the end of season State of Origin series.

In 2021, he was appointed as co-captain alongside Isaah Yeo. His status as a key performer in the Panthers team was no better demonstrated with their dip in form when he was absent, firstly during the Origin period and then later when he was out with a shoulder injury. His return just before the finals series was a welcome one, and Penrith immediately looked a better team with his presence, both with his general play as well as goal kicking. In the second last round, he became only the third Penrith player to pass 1,000 points and later joined Ryan Girdler as the second player to surpass 200 points in a season for a third time. Whilst he once again missed out on the Dally M medal, he was man of the match in the Panthers grand final win and awarded the Clive Churchill Medal. At the end of the 2022 season, he was awarded his second straight Merv Cartwright Medal.

Off- season surgery on an injured shoulder saw him miss the first month of the premiership season in 2022, and would be further disrupted by representative duty for New South Wales and then missing the last five matches due to suspension for a dangerous tackle. However, he still played in 14 of the regular season matches, and finished as the top point scorer. In April, he extended his stay at Penrith until 2027 and soon after, during Magic Round versus Melbourne, he surpassed Greg Alexander to become the outright second highest point scorer for the Panthers, only behind Ryan Girdler. Upon his return for the Panthers from suspension in the opening week of the finals, he was man of the match in their 27-8 win over Parramatta. Alongside co-captain Issah Yeo, he led the Panthers to back to back premiership triumphs. Soon after, he made his long waited Test debut for Australia, and was part of the victorious World Cup winning squad.

Last updated 29 November 2022


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