Nathan Cleary's eye-opening comment about potential switch to rugby union

The Penrith Panthers halfback has left the door ajar to follow in Joseph Suaalii's footsteps.

Nathan Cleary, pictured here in action for the Penrith Panthers.
Nathan Cleary has revealed he's open to making a switch to rugby union. Image: Getty

If the likes of Peter V'landys and Phil Gould are unhappy about Joseph Suaalii switching to rugby union, imagine the uproar if Nathan Cleary was to follow suit. In an eye-opening comment, the Penrith Panthers halfback admitted this week that he might be open to joining the 15-aside game in the future.

When asked on Channel 9 on Tuesday if he'd ever considering switching codes, Cleary responded: "I have a great admiration and respect for union players, particularly growing up in New Zealand, it's so big over there. At the moment I'm pretty happy with where I'm at. Somewhere down the track maybe (I'd consider switching). "

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The admission from Cleary comes at the worst-possible time for the NRL, who have been going back-and-forth with rugby after Suaalii's defection. Speaking on Sunday, ARL boss V'landys said: "It's hard to blame Joseph for going to rugby and considering it as his future when he is going to be paid twice the money for doing half the work.

"In rugby they play around 33 minutes per match, but in league the ball is in play for 57 minutes, so it would be a lot easier to earn your money. Besides, I really think that after Joseph plays rugby for a little while he will get terribly bored and return to rugby league. That's what the majority of the players who switch codes do."

Channel 9 commentator and Bulldogs football manager Gould also took aim at Suaalii in a scathing swipe on Monday night. “Every time he scores a try. Every time he does something in our game people are going to refer to the fact that he’s going to rugby,” Gould said on 100% Footy.

“Why do we need that? Go now. Don’t let the door hit you on the arse on the way out. Go. Go now. Gone. He’s made his decision. You sign a contract for rugby 18 months before his league contract ends.

“You can’t sign with any other rugby league club in that time. He can only sign somewhere else. He’s made his decision. I have nothing against the kid. I’ve loved having him in the NRL. He’s a tremendous athlete and is great for the game. But he’s decided to be a rugby player. Bye bye. Off you go.”

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On Tuesday, Rugby Australia boss Hamish McLennan fired back after earlier labelling the NRL figures 'cry babies'. "I think that's a cheap shot ... he's an athlete that's worth it," McLennan told Channel 9 about Suaalii's $1.6 million-per season deal.

"We could afford to take him now, and we would be delighted to take him earlier if league didn't want him. The reaction has been quite thuggish in terms of how they've treated him, what they've said about him and how they have treated him and his manager.

"I think we're a bit more player-centric in rugby union and a bit more pro-player. I wouldn't be talking to one of my key guys like that. "

McLennan then dropped a bombshell, saying: "There is one unnamed person out of league who have put their hand up to come across." Could that unnamed person be Cleary? Only time will tell.

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