Nathan Cleary ruled out of Kangaroos Tests after injury secret comes to light

The Penrith Panthers halfback haas been withdrawn from Mal Meninga's Australian squad.

Nathan Cleary walking after an injury and Cleary watching on.
Nathan Cleary (pictured right) is a doubt for the Kangaroos after hurting his knee in the NRL grand final (pictured left) under a Payne Haas tackle. (Images: Channel Nine/Getty Images)

Nathan Cleary has been ruled out of the Pacific Championships in a blow for the Kangaroos due to a knee injury he suffered early in NRL grand final. The Penrith halfback has his leg caught underneath Broncos forward Payne Haas in the 10th minute, and got up gingerly.

Cleary was the game-changer for the Panthers as his all-time performance saw him drag his team to a third-straight NRL premiership. The halfback has entered elite territory and has been compared with the game's legends after his performance.

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On Tuesday, Cleary was once again selected for the Kangaroos for the upcoming Pacific Tests having helped guide Australia to a World Cup win last year. But he was withdrawn from the squad just 24 hours later after succumbing to the injury.

Nicho Hynes has been brought into the squad as a result, while Daly Cherry-Evans will likely become the first-choice halfback. Paas was hit with an $1800 fine for the tackle on Cleary, which was deeme to be a hip-drop.

“I rang our guys who then rang Penrith’s medical team, and they told us he’ll definitely go for scans to see what the extent of the injury is,” Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga said on Tuesday. “At this stage he’s still celebrating, and rightly so. We’ve got ‘Cherry’ [Daly Cherry-Evans], so we can keep Nathan in the squad and have him available for the New Zealand game if needed. We’ll see what happens.”

Nathan Cleary with his family.
Nathan Cleary won the Clive Churchill Medal for his grand final performance.

'NRL Physio' Brien Seeney commented that Cleary could have sustained an MCL sprain with Haas' full weight appearing to land on his leg. Cleary's injury isn't thought to be overly serious and won't keep him out long term.

The injury revelation puts Cleary's grand final masterclass into a whole new perspective. The co-captain turned the game on its head with a 40-20 kick, before two assists and the match-winning try to turn a 24-8 deficit into a 26-24 victory.

Nathan Cleary in Kangaroos squad amid controversial snubs

A number of exclusions from the Kangaroos squad sparked uproar on Tuesday. The omissions of Reece Walsh and Dylan Edwards have come under fire, with incumbent James Tedesco keeping his position despite a sub-par year.

Tedesco didn't have his best season in 2023 and Meninga picked a number of outside backs who can cover fullback if need be. However, with Walsh arguably cementing himself as the game's best fullback and Edwards winning his third straight NRL premiership, fans were left baffled. Kalyn Ponga was also overlooked despite winning the Dally M medal and leading the Knights to an unlikely finals berth.

Nathan Cleary celebrating.
Nathan Cleary (pictured) is a doubt for the Kangaroos after hurting his knee in the NRL grand final. (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)

Versatile Queenslanders Valentine Holmes, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow and Selwyn Cobbo have all won selection, with Meninga unable to find room for a back-up specialist fullback. Meninga stayed loyal to his captain, who led the Kangaroos to glory at the World Cup in 2022. It means a fullback who probably wasn't in the top three at his position this year is the Australian No.1.

“The quality we saw in the regular season, the State of Origin series and the finals series means we have been able to put together an outstanding squad,” Meninga said on Tuesday. “The squad has a healthy blend of representatives from last year’s World Cup, as well as others who have performed extremely well over the course of the season.”

The Kangaroos will play Samoa in Townsville on October 14, before taking on New Zealand in Melbourne on October 28. The final will be played the following week in Hamilton.

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