Nathan Cleary at centre of worrying scenes in Panthers' win over Souths
Penrith's star halfback was in visible discomfort against the Rabbitohs on Thursday night.
The Penrith Panthers will be sweating on the results of scans on Nathan Cleary's ankle after the star halfback suffered a worrying injury in his side's thrilling six-point win over the Rabbitohs on Thursday night. Cleary came off the field late in the first half and received treatment on the injury at halftime of the 16-10 victory at BlueBet Stadium.
The defending NRL premiers brushed off suggestions from Souths rival Latrell Mitchell that there were "cracks" at the club after a shock opening round defeat to the Broncos. Penrith came into the contest having lost back-to-back games after going down to St Helens in the World Club Challenge, but they showed their class against the Bunnies to get their season up and running.
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The match was overshadowed by reports Mitchell was racially abused by a spectator, with the NRL confirming they are investigating the ugly claims. "The NRL was immediately informed of the alleged matter, and the club will work with the NRL to investigate," the Panthers said in a statement.
Penrith also have concerns around their star half and captain Cleary, who left the field towards the end of the first half after twisting his ankle awkwardly in a tackle. After coming off second-best in a tackle with Alex Johnston, Cleary opted not to kick for goal when an Izack Tago try extended the Panthers' lead to 8-0 before the break.
Medial/high ankle sprain mechanism for Nathan Cleary, currently getting strapped up to attempt a return in the 2nd half. Minimal concerns if damage isolated to medial ankle ligaments - high ankle sprain more limiting with function/performance pic.twitter.com/il92Z6p0q5
— NRL PHYSIO (@nrlphysio) March 9, 2023
Nathan Cleary can have my ankle!! We need him out there 😭#NRLPanthersRabbitohs #nrl
— jøshö🇦🇺 (@TahanJL) March 9, 2023
“Friendly fire from To’o the minute before the last try, pictures determining it is a high ankle sprain,” Cooper Cronk said on Fox League. “They must be a little worried, the doctor the physio, all there doing the tests."
Footage from the sheds at halftime showed Cleary receiving treatment on the ankle, but fortunately for the home side he was able to take the field to guide his side home in the second half, albeit with ankle strapping and a limp. Penrith coach Ivan Cleary confirmed after the game that his son would go for scans on Friday to determine the extent of the damage, with the Panthers fortunately having the bye in round three.
"They (the medical workers) didn’t seem too worried at half-time after they looked at it,” the Penrith coach said. “We’ll have to assess it (on Friday). Might be a good time for a bye next week, considering.”
Nathan Cleary defies injury to help steer Penrith home
The ankle complaint came at the end of a strong 40 minutes for the Panthers, who could have been up by more than 10-0 at half-time had recruit Luke Garner not been denied two tries and Isaah Yeo one. Despite his injury, Cleary terrorised the Rabbitohs with his kicking game, causing South Sydney's backline all sorts of problems with his towering, spiral bombs.
Time and time again, Cleary targeted inexperienced winger Izaac Thompson, after getting the result he wanted as early as the third minute. The ball bounced in the red zone and travelled through hands to Stephen Crichton, who scored on the right edge.
The Rabbitohs did well to rebuff the Penrith juggernaut as it rolled forward and looked set to go into the break trailing by only four points. That was until Jarome Luai broke free down the left side and managed to kick for the speedy Tago to score, even after the five-eighth was tackled.
South Sydney were slow to come out of half-time and, having been battered through the middle the whole first half, appeared too tired to mount a comeback when Panthers winger Brian To'o sailed over on the right side in the 52nd minute. Having ribbed the premiers with his "cracks in their windscreen" remark earlier in the week, Mitchell took it upon himself to inspire a late fightback from South Sydney.
He came up with an offload to help the prolific Alex Johnston to score his first-ever try at BlueBet Stadium, and then paved the way for Isaiah Tass to score when he broke the line in the final two minutes. Souths scrambled to level the scores in the dying exchanges but ultimately left their run too late.
"To use a boxing analogy, we tried to fight off the ropes," Rabbitohs coach Jason Demetriou said. "I don't think we stepped into the fight enough. We've got to be better."
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