Penrith prop James Tamou admits he couldn't believe he was watching Nathan Cleary when evidence of his teammate's social media exploits first appeared.
Tamou said Cleary has been a quiet, withdrawn figure on return to Panthers training this week after being subjected to widespread criticism for his breach of social distancing measures.
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The NSW playmaker was fined $4000 by the NRL when images of him with a group of women at his house emerged 10 days ago.
Two videos of Cleary dancing with up to five women were subsequently uploaded on social media resulting in an amended breach notice for the 22-year-old and potentially stiffer sanctions.
The actions were widely condemned and Tamou said the halfback was visibly affected in a training environment which he otherwise described as vibrant, with players happy to be back working together.
"Obviously he's pretty quiet, he's just very remorseful for what he's done," Tamou said.
"He's trying to do his best just to put his head down and do his work.
"Obviously the NRL is still handling all that stuff and I wouldn't know what to say until it's all done and finished."
Tamou's initial thought when the headlines appeared was that Cleary had been set up.
"Seeing the picture, I first thought 'that's not Nathan, something's up'," he said.
"He's not that out-there, he's more introverted than anything. But he knows he's made a mistake and he's willing to cop it."
Tamou ‘feels for’ his young teammate
Kiwi-born Tamou can relate to the intense focus on Cleary.
He experienced a period of negative press eight years ago when he pledged his allegiance to NSW and Australia, having previously expressed a desire to represent New Zealand.
"You feel like you've let everyone down and you feel so small. So I feel for him," Tamou said.
"He's still young, we forget that it's kids that we're talking about.
"Half the things, I wouldn't take back because it made me who I am today. I know Nath will look back at this and know what's right and what's wrong."
Cleary originally had 60 per cent of a $10,000 fine and a one-game ban suspended by the NRL.
He was given five days to respond to the amended breach notice after the emergence of the videos.