Nathan Cleary has lamented his lack of a private life amid rumours he's dating Matildas player Mary Fowler. A photo emerged last week showing the Penrith Panthers halfback on a walk with football star Fowler - reportedly taken one day after the Matildas' win over Denmark in the round of 16 at the Women's World Cup.
The photo is said to have been snapped two weeks before they were also seen enjoying an ice cream after taking part in a photo shoot for Adidas together. Cleary's camp has previously moved to quash any speculation of a budding romance, and the State of Origin star addressed the situation for the first time on Monday.
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Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Cleary described the speculation as "annoying" and bemoaned the fact his private life is always in the public spotlight. “It is what is, it’s a little bit annoying to not have a private life but I like to not talk about it too much and keep anything I can private,” he said. “Things take off pretty quick with social media, but I’ll try to keep as private life if I can.”
Cleary is preparing to lead the Panthers into the NRL finals, with Penrith to face the Warriors in their qualifying final clash on Saturday afternoon. The Panthers are attempting to become the first team since Parramatta in the 80s to win three-successive premierships.
Cleary also hit out at the "tall poppy syndrome" that is so prevalent in Australia, which has seen the Panthers become the victim of criticism in recent years. The 25-year-old compared it to some of the backlash the Matildas got when they finished fourth at the World Cup, despite it being Australia's best-ever result at a World Cup (men's or women's).
“Not long ago with the Matildas, everyone got around them, it was a great thing for the country to come together," he said. "But as soon as they lost, there were people nitpicking it instead of appreciating it for what it was.”
The 'Hello Sport Podcast' first fuelled the rumours of a Cleary and Fowler romance when the ice cream rendezvous captured their attention. Host Tom Birmingham said: "Now they’re both sponsored by Adidas and they were maybe doing a function. But you have an ice-cream with someone, that’s saying something. You may as well be holding hands. We haven’t got a power couple do we at the moment?”
Co-host Eddy Simpson said with tongue in cheek: “Unless they’re doing an ice cream commercial, they’re essentially dating." Birmingham joked: “That’s a smooch basically. It’s the culinary smooch, if you’re sharing an ice cream.”
They've been spotted together (finally)! 👀 This makes the rumours of NRL playmaker Nathan Cleary and Matildas star Mary Fowler's relationship real, right? 😱👉 https://t.co/m9OS74KBbm pic.twitter.com/0Jizv7SOPz
— The Daily Telegraph (@dailytelegraph) August 31, 2023
Nathan Cleary denies Panthers are lacking any hunger
Meanwhile, Cleary has denied suggestions the Panthers will be lacking any motivation in the finals due to the fact they've already scaled the lofty heights of the NRL twice. "The opportunity itself is enough motivation," he said at the official finals launch.
"Something we talk about a lot is that it's a battle against yourself. Trying to get the best out of yourself. That is motivation. Trying to get the best out of the group we have, not taking it for granted. It doesn't last for long, footy. You've got to make the most of it, particularly when you have a good team and system."
Broncos captain Adam Reynolds said the Panthers would be favourites after they finished the regular season in first place. "It's pretty hard to say anyone but Penrith (are favourites)," Reynolds said. "The quality of the team that's there, and what they've done in the last couple of years, plays a big part into the structures that they believe so hard in. Their best and worst performances aren't too far apart. But otherwise if there's a smoky, it's probably Newcastle."
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