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Nathan Cleary at centre of rugby union calls after NRL grand final masterclass

Rugby Australia is being urged to throw big bucks to get Nathan Cleary in a Wallabies jersey.

Nathan Cleary, pictured here alongside Wallabies players at the Rugby World Cup.
Rugby Australia would love to have Nathan Cleary in a Wallabies jersey. Image: Getty

A number of rugby union identities are urging the Wallabies to throw the kitchen sink at Nathan Cleary to get him across to the 15-man game. Cleary further enshrined himself as one of the NRL's greatest halfbacks when he masterminded the biggest comeback in grand final history on Sunday.

With his side trailing 24-8 with 15 minutes to play, Cleary put the Panthers on his back to produce an incredible 26-24 victory. The halfback had two assists and the winning try as Penrith won their third-consecutive premierships.

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The plaudits have been flying in from around the NRL world in the wake of the masterclass, but rugby union has also sat up and taken notice. With the Wallabies all-but certain to miss the quarter-finals for the first time in World Cup history, rugby writer Christy Doran commented: “Rugby Australia throw $$ at Nathan Cleary immediately. Three peat for Penrith. Unbelievable. What a player. Extraordinary playmaker. Imagine him leading the Wallabies at the 2027 Rugby World Cup?!”

Former Wallabies player Peter FitzSimons wrote: “Never in doubt. Fabulous match. Great comeback by Penrith. If we Wallabies are going to raid NRL, Cleary and (Reece) Walsh should be the first targets."

Rugby Australia pulled off a stunning coup earlier this year when they got Roosters young gun Joseph Suaalii to jump ship. The 21-year-old will link up with the NSW Waratahs (and Wallabies) at the end of the 2024 NRL season.

Reports also emerged last week that Angus Crichton was eyeing a move to rugby union, although those negotiations are believed to have broken down. Rugby Australia have reportedly got the likes of Cleary, Cameron Murray and Payne Haas at the top of their wish list.

Nathan Cleary's previous comments about rugby union

Speaking earlier this year, Cleary failed to rule out making a code switch at some stage in his career. "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)."

NRL Immortal Andrew Johns later smacked down any thought that Clear or Haas would defect. "Payne Haas won't go to rugby," he said on the Sunday Footy Show. "I see they're chasing Nathan Cleary. Laughable. Why would you want to go and play rugby union? You touch the ball three times.

"Mate, who's the boss? Whatever his name is (Hamish McLennan) – everything I see he goes 'Oh, come to union. You're gonna see the world'. Mate, if you want to see the world, I'll pay for a Contiki tour. You'll have more fun. Payne Haas would go over and run the ball three times."

Nathan Cleary, pictured here with the NRL premiership trophy after Penrith's three-peat.
Nathan Cleary with the NRL premiership trophy. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Billy Slater also expresses his doubts, saying: "What's the temptation to go there? You've got to love the game. If you love the game you want to go and explore that, well, go and do it.

"The money's not gonna turn you. It surely can't be a money thing. The money's really good in our game. Our product is the best it's ever been. It's a great entertainment product. It's a great product to play."

The Wallabies are staring down the barrel of exiting the World Cup in the group stage for the first time ever. They will only advance to the quarters if Portugal can pull off a miraculous win over Fiji by more than seven points on Monday morning (Australian time). The disastrous campaign has sparked questions over whether Suaalii will honour his $1.6 million deal with Rugby Australia or try to back out and stay in the NRL.

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