Nathan Cleary update leaves Panthers rocked as NRL rivals fume over new tactic

The NRL superstar appears to be set for time on the sideline.

Nathan Cleary is set to be out of action for four weeks due to a hamstring injury only hours after the Panthers dismissed claims the star halfback was struggling in their win over Brisbane last Thursday. Cleary was seen leaving the field with about 10 minutes remaining against the Broncos, which looked like a ploy to get him some rest with his team having already secured victory.

Some reports suggested the NRL halfback had picked up a hamstring injury, which troubled him in 2023, but according to the Panthers there were no issues with Cleary whatsoever. However, on Monday evening, Cleary was confirmed to have been injured and could miss four weeks after suffering a minor strain to his hamstring.

Nathan Cleary has been ruled out at least four weeks with a hamstring injury as the Panthers are also accused of a dodgy tactic (pictured right) following their game against the Broncos. (Images: Getty Images/Fox Sports)
Nathan Cleary has been ruled out at least four weeks with a hamstring injury as the Panthers are also accused of a dodgy tactic (pictured right) following their game against the Broncos. (Images: Getty Images/Fox Sports)

While Cleary appears to have only suffered a minor strain, he dealt with a troublesome hamstring in 2023. This injury ruled him out of State of Origin Games II and III for the Blues. He also missed rounds 15 to 20 last year with a hamstring injury. Channel Nine's Danny Weidler reported Cleary could only miss one week of action, but the Panthers could choose to rest him and he would return after the bye in round six.

Back-up half Brad Schneider will most likely fill the void left by the NRL superstar, which will see him wear the Panthers No.7 jersey for the first time against the Roosters on Thursday night. Scott Sorenson has also been ruled out for the Panthers who are sweating on the fitness of James Fisher-Harris. The NRL world was quick to react to the Cleary news, which has left fans stunned ahead of the showdown with the Roosters.

Rival NRL coaches left fuming over Panthers' new ploy

The NRL has cracked down on players illegally blocking defenders from applying pressure on kickers this year, and we've seen a number of penalties awarded. The crackdown was brought in largely because of the way the Panthers previously put players near the ruck to impede the opposition from getting a clear run at Cleary when he was kicking. While all teams were guilty of it, the Panthers copped the most heat and Wayne Bennett was a vocal opponent of the dodgy move.

The practice has now been outlawed, but it looks like Ivan Cleary's side have come up with a new way to provide protection for their halfback. In Thursday night's clash with the Broncos, hooker Mitch Kenny was spotted a number of times throwing the ball to Cleary for a kick before running across field in front of Brisbane players.

While a dummy-half would normally throw the pass and remain relatively stationary, Kenny was seen exaggerating his follow-through and running across in front of players trying to get to Cleary. According to the Daily Telegraph, rival NRL coaches have cottoned onto the ploy - and they are not happy.

“They are definitely trying to be a hindrance to the player chasing the kicker," one unnamed coach told the publication. “You’re not allowed to hinder the direction of the runner who is putting pressure on the kickers to eliminate his time. Our hookers will be doing the same thing now next week. He will now pass and chase (like Kenny).”

Mitch Kenny, pictured here passing the ball to Nathan Cleary.
Mitch Kenny passes the ball to Nathan Cleary before continuing his run and blocking opposition players. Image: Channel 9


But the NRL's head of football told The Telegraph: “This example is simply the dummy-half following the play after he passes the ball. It is not what we have been discussing with clubs at all. Blocking involves players unnecessarily placing themselves between the dummy-half and the kicker to deliberately obstruct defenders.” Whether that explanation goes down well with the other NRL clubs remains to be seen.