Nathan Cleary must wake up some days and wonder if it's all worth it.
What should have been the best fortnight of his life since guiding his team to a grand final win and picking up the Clive Churchill Medal has turned into a daily nightmare.
The NRL's decision to fine Cleary $7000 – and teammate Stephen Crichton $4000 - for treating the Provan-Summons premiership trophy "in a manner which showed disrespect towards the individuals depicted in the iconic moment memorialised on the Trophy" is surely a joke.
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Putting the damaged trophy in a baby sling and pram – the accusations levelled at Cleary and Crichton – was mindless and childish but not worthy of a combined $11k fine.
A quiet word and a warning would have sufficed.
Many believe the NRL only came down hard on the Panthers duo in the wake of Norm Provan's death, which understandably stirred emotions in the league fraternity.
It’s hard not to think otherwise.
Cleary is a decent young bloke who's made some mistakes. But he's getting a raw deal at the moment.
It's tall poppy syndrome in over-drive.
First, Cleary had to wear criticism he was not a worthy CC Medallist despite playing on the winning team and skewering Souths with one of the best kicking games seen in a big match.
Apparently his missed tackle on Cody Walker was enough to deny him the award.
A day after the decider when Cleary was lapping up the greatest moment of his life with his closest mates, a photo of the Penrith No.7 at sunrise with the premiership trophy made its way onto social media.
It was a young bloke in party mode but that's not what caught the attention of the social media detectives on the lookout for no good.
They wanted to know what the white lines on Cleary's mobile phone – visible in the photo – were.
How disappointed the no-life sleuths must have been when it was explained the white marks were air bubbles on his screen protector and not Colombia's finest.
Just as that drama was dying down, the outrage meter quickly fired-up again when photos of Cleary's younger sister Indi posing with Tyrone May surfaced on Instagram.
Well then, they must be an item. Book the celebrant.
May doesn't have the best reputation but there's no crime in standing next to him in a picture.
Can you believe the story grew to such an extent a Penrith official was forced to deny they were an item.
NRL statement: Penrith players Nathan Cleary and Stephen Crichton have been issued Breach Notices alleging they acted contrary to best interests of the game after they were photographed on social media acting in a disrespectful manner toward the NRL Telstra Premiership Trophy.
— Dean Ritchie (@BulldogRitchie) October 19, 2021
Nathan Cleary isn't responsible for actions of his friends
The minute that story came off the boil there was another to take its place - and Nathan Cleary was firmly in the frame again.
Three of his friends reportedly broke Covid restrictions by travelling from NSW to Queensland to watch the grand final and party with the Panthers.
Suddenly, Cleary stood accused of knowing their plan and the NRL's Integrity Unit, for some reason, decided it needed to get itself involved and start asking questions.
There was nothing to see, of course, but we can now assume players are responsible for the behaviour of their mates.
That will be interesting next time the Munster crew get together.
That the premiership trophy was broken during celebrations is unfortunate and careless but not uncommon in post-grand final slap-ups.
Just ask Laurie Daley.
To say they disrespected Norm Provan and Arthur Summons – the two greats depicted on the trophy – is a bridge too far.
The deeds of that pair are told in words, photos and film, not in metal and wood.
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