Nathan Cleary in telling Panthers training move as details of 'car injury' emerge

The three-time premiership winner has been sidelined with an injury suffered in Penrith's grand final triumph.

Nathan Cleary has returned to pre-season training with Penrith after suffering a serious knee injury in the side's third straight NRL grand final victory. Pic: Getty
Nathan Cleary has returned to pre-season training with Penrith after suffering a serious knee injury in the side's third straight NRL grand final victory. Pic: Getty

The Penrith Panthers have talked up the condition of sidelined star Nathan Cleary after the three-time premiership winner returned to training on Thursday. Cleary and halves partner Jarome Luai were among the highest profile group of Panthers grand final heroes to make their returns, with Luai having undergone shoulder surgery after his side beat Brisbane to win its third straight NRL grand final.

Cleary's masterclass in Penrith's premiership triumph came after he suffered a serious knee injury early in the first half after a tackle from Broncos prop Payne Haas. It's understood Cleary suffered a grade-three posterior cruciate ligament rupture, which Penrith's physio likened to something often seen in a car crash which could have sidelined him for as much as two months if it happened in the regular season.

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"They call it the dashboard car injury, where if you have a head-on accident it can typically damage or rupture that ligament, such is the force involved," Penrith physio Pete Green said. "Had it been during the season, and what time of year it was, he could have come back half-done in two or three weeks, or you come back properly in six to eight weeks.

"Considering he has travelled around a fair bit with little rehab, he was in remarkable shape." Cleary missed the Kangaroos' Pacific Championships Test series against Samoa and New Zealand and has had a bust off-season of travel which has included trips to New York and Bali, as well as a highly publicised visit to Perth to see his girlfriend Mary Fowler and watch the Matildas star play for Australia.

Penrith teammate Mavrik Geyer was also blown away by Cleary's condition and in an ominous warning to rival clubs, suggested the 26-year-old was looking hungrier than ever for more premiership success in 2024. "He is looking good, and he already looks like he's in for another great year — he looks like he'll go until he's 40," Geyer said.

Jarome Luai back at Penrith after shoulder surgery

Luai also made his return for Thursday's gruelling pre-season fitness training at Penrith, having missed the Pacific Championships series for Samoa after undergoing shoulder surgery. The classy five-eighth will not engage in any contact work until much closer to round one next year but is set to resume passing drills in the new year.

"He actually had a big labral repair, they also had to fix up his bicep tendon, and also a bit of what Nathan had, which is the rotator-cuff tendon — it was the hamburger with the lot," Green said. The surgery he had was called 'latarjet', which is where they transfer bone from another part of your body. You come back stronger, but it also means you have to be slower with your recovery to start."

Seen here, Penrith star Jarome Luai.
Jarome Luai had shoulder surgery after the 2023 NRL season. Pic: Getty

The five-eighth's future at the Panthers has been the subject of intense speculation, with Penrith understood to be weighing up an improved three-year offer for the 26-year-old to fend off rival clubs. The Wests Tigers are heavily courting Luai and are reportedly prepared to offer as much as $4.5 million for a four-year deal.

Luai also met with Canterbury boss Phil Gould last week and might be tempted to join former Panthers teammates Stephen Crichton, Viliame Kikau and Matt Burton at the Bulldogs. The Panthers have previously stated that they won't be offering any more money to Luai, but it came to light on Monday night that they might be willing to throw in a third year on a new deal.

Penrith chief executive Matt Cameron told the Sydney Morning Herald this week that the club is "optimistic" about getting a deal done to retain Luai. “We’ve been in constant dialogue with him. He spoke to the coach [Ivan Cleary] just last week," Cameron said.

"We’ve been 100 per cent transparent with him, and he’s been 100 per cent transparent with us as to what is going on. We’re optimistic we’ll get a deal done with Jarome. It will not be all about the money. And we’ve got a pretty good track record of players re-committing to the club and taking a little less for the chance to pursue something pretty special.”

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