Nathan Cleary ambushed by question about Mary Fowler after Panthers snap winless run

The NRL champions got their first win of the season in controversial circumstances against Parramatta.

The last thing Nathan Cleary would have expected after the Panthers beat the Eels on Friday night was a question about girlfriend Mary Fowler. But that's exactly where Brad Fittler went in a post-match interview.

The Panthers got their first win of the season with a 26-18 win over Parramatta, snapping a two-game losing streak that threatened to frustrate the premiers. After going down to Wigan in the World Club Challenge, the Panthers suffered back-to-back losses when the Storm caused a huge boilover with an 8-0 victory in the first round of the NRL season.

But any thoughts of the Panthers suffering a premiership hangover were put to bed on Friday night as Cleary steered his side to perfection. It marked the first time the Panthers had beaten the Eels in a regular season game since 2021, and the relief was clear to see on Cleary's face after the game.

Nathan Cleary, pictured here after being asked about girlfriend Mary Fowler.
Nathan Cleary wasn't expecting to be asked about Mary Fowler. Image: Channel 9/Instagram

Brad Fittler's cheeky question about Mary Fowler

But the Panthers co-captain was completely ambushed by his former State of Origin coach when Fittler turned the topic of discussion to Fowler in a post-match segment on Channel 9. Discussing the Panthers' back-to-back losses, Fittler asked cheekily: "Were you feeling the pressure because your girlfriend is such a winner?"

Cleary looked a bit confused before breaking out into a grin, while fellow Channel 9 panellist Allana Ferguson burst out laughing. "Where's Mary? Where's Mary?" Ferguson shot at Cleary playfully.

"I wish she was here," Cleary said with a smile. "She was showing me up for a while. We had two losses in a row."

Nathan Cleary, pictured here in a post-match interview with Channel 9.
Nathan Cleary saw the funny side of the question about Mary Fowler. Image: Channel 9

Parramatta fume over refereeing calls in Panthers loss

The Panthers got back to winning ways, with Cleary providing a try assist and a line break assist while running for 99 metres. But there were still moments that caused concern for coach Ivan Cleary.

"Lots of things we came to do tonight, we did, but (there were) some very uncharacteristic defensive lapses," he said. "We left a lot of tries out there but the fact that we were creating chances the week after you don't score a point is pleasing. It was a good win."


The Eels' chances weren't helped when they lost winger Bailey Simonsson in the first few minutes to concussion. "It hurts," Eels coach Brad Arthur said. "But I thought those guys that we put there had to adjust and they scrambled well. They did the best they could in the position. I thought we were extremely tough."

Arthur wasn't happy with a number of refereeing calls, most notably when Isaah Yeo was in front of Cleary and moved forward after the ball was kicked when Dylan Edwards scored the Panthers' first try. Under the new 'downtown' rule introduced this year, Yeo's actions should have resulted in a penalty to the Eels.

"Not a lot went right for us, with a few calls I reckon," Arthur said. "I just thought there's some rule changes there that need to be enforced. You can't jump in front of blokes when they're catching the ball, you can't be downtown in front of kicks. The first try was downtown. It's the rule."

Eels captain Clint Gutherson added: "Rules are rules. You've got to do what the referees are doing. As Brad said, we probably thought we got dudded on a couple of calls."