Nathan Cleary under fire over comment about Taylan May suspension

·Sports Reporter
·5-min read
Nathan Cleary and Taylan May are pictured side by side.
Nathan Cleary has been slammed for saying he feels 'sorry' for Penrith Panthers teammate Taylan May in the wake of his guilty verdict for an assault charge. Pictures: Getty Images

Penrith Panthers captain Nathan Cleary has been slammed for his defence of teammate Taylan May, who has been allowed to play in the NRL finals despite being found guilty of assault.

The NRL has been roundly criticised after opting against suspending May in the wake of the guilty verdict, which stemmed from his assault of a pub patron after the Panthers' grand final triumph last year.

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May pleaded not guilty to the charge, which was laid after the 21-year-old approached a man who was speaking to Cleary and teammate Tyrone May from behind and threw him to the ground without warning.

The man struck his head and later complained of a sprained neck, with May eventually ordered to pay $1000 to the victim and a $1000 fine for his conduct, which a magistrate described as 'reprehensible' and 'cowardly'.

The decision not to suspend May until next season because his court case came to an end just before the finals has been widely ridiculed, but Cleary raised eyebrows when he defended May on Wednesday.

Cleary said he felt 'sorry' for May because of the attention his case had brought, adding that he believed May had learned a lesson from the saga.

“It’s great (that he’s playing), you want your best players on the park and he’s been massive for us this year,” Cleary said.

"It’s the spotlight we live in these days, rugby league is a 24-7 job, it’s not just when we’re coming here or training or on the field. It’s when we’re with the outside world and everywhere.

“I felt sorry for him going through it all, you obviously feel for your mate that has to go through stuff like that and the scrutiny around it, as we kind of touched on there’s lessons to be learned and I’ll always respect Taylan.”

Though Cleary was commended by Paul Kent for backing his teammate, the NRL journalist said he disagreed with the approach and didn't believe May was remorseful for the assault.

“I respect Nathan Cleary defending his teammate, that’s what you do, but I don’t agree with it,” Kent said.

“The guy has his back to him, he's talking to Nathan Cleary, and (May) feels compelled to walk up, grab him by the collar and throw him to the ground.

“In court he tried to argue he was provoked, he pleaded not guilty, he hasn’t shown any remorse for it. He hasn’t come out and apologised. Everyone is feeling sorry for this kid, it’s the old good bloke rule.

“Well maybe the 18-year-old kid that got thrown to the ground is a good kid too but there’s not a lot of sympathy for him. As usual it’s all one way.”

Taylan May verdict leaves NRL world divided

While the likes of Kent and various other NRL journalists have been scathing of the decision to allow May to play, Phil Gould has instead suggested May 'should be congratulated'.

Gould questioned why May was being suspended at all, given he had no conviction recorded against him despite being found guilty.

"Why argue over when Taylan May suspension should be served? Why was he suspended at all?,” Gould wrote on Twitter.

“No conviction recorded by court. $1000 fine. Hardly serious matter. Video clearly shows he defused situation before it escalated.

“Why are footballers always wrong? May should be congratulated.”

Gould's take on the matter wasn't quite in line with his NRL contemporaries though, with Kent saying it was 'disgraceful' that the NRL was allowing May to play finals.

The court heard May had been frustrated by the victim filming him in the minutes prior to the assault and that the man had been asked to delete the footage, but refused.

Kent said that despite this, there was no way May's actions were warranted.

“Because for some reason they have decided that finals games are worth more than normal games, the old buy now pay later scheme," Kent told NRL 360 earlier in the week.

“It is absolutely ridiculous, it is an indictment on the management of the NRL that don’t know what they are doing.”

Taylan May runs the ball in an NRL match against the Canberra Raiders.
Taylan May was found guilty of assault after being charged over an incident on the Sunshine Coast in October 2021. (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

David Riccio of the Daily Telegraph revealed that Parramatta weren't impressed by the decision either.

“When the news came through, they (Eels) just shook their head,” Riccio said.

“Is it a green light for any player to commit a criminal offence through this finals period, so long as the fine doesn’t exceed $1000?”

Paul Crawley added: “It is just head-shaking stupidity… it is cowardly."

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