Panthers accused of illegal Nathan Cleary act as storm erupts before NRL grand final

The Panthers halfback has been accused of being a protected player ahead of the grand final.

Nathan Cleary kicking the ball and Cleary running.
The Panthers have been called out for protecting Nathan Cleary (pictured right) using a forbidden tactic ahead of the NRL grand final. (Images: NRL/Getty Images)

The Panthers have been accused of protecting Nathan Cleary 'illegally' to grant him more time on the ball for kicks ahead of the NRL grand final. The Panthers are set to play in their fourth NRL grand final in a row and are hoping to become the first team since the Eels in the 80s to win three straight premierships.

Cleary has been a key to their success having secured the title of best halfback in the game across the last three seasons. However, NRL reporter Paul Crawley has claimed referees are not pulling the Panthers forwards up for blocking runners at Cleary during the NRL finals.

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An example came up in the preliminary final against the Storm, which the Panthers won 38-4, which saw Isaah Yeo block runners twice in the first half to give Cleary more time to kick the ball. In the second instance, Yeo moves off his line to force the Storm chaser wide.

Plenty of talk has been around where Cleary sits alongside the greats if he is to secure a third straight premiership with the Panthers. But Crawley said Cleary doesn't need to be a protected species when he raised the tactic on Tuesday night.

"Cleary is playing in career-best form, there’s conversations going on about is he as good as the greatest? As good as Joey? As good as Sterlo? But I tell you one thing he doesn’t need, he doesn’t need a leg up from the referees ignoring some of the tactics going on to give him protection,” Crawley said on NRL 360.

“You have a look at some of these incidents involving Isaah Yeo and Moses Leota. When you’re giving kick-block protection, you’re not allowed to move. They’re moving, they’re getting in the way. These are penalties that are just being ignored. Why are they being ignored?"

Crawley added that halfbacks receive plenty of protection these days, but the added protection needed to be removed for the balance of the game. Host Braith Anasta pointed out that while the move is against the laws of the game with players not allowed to deviate from their path to block a chaser, he also added Penrith were great at getting away with the dark arts of the game.

Nathan Cleary waves to the crowd.
Nathan Cleary (pictured) is set to play in his fourth straight NRL grand final. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

Broncos face injury concerns ahead of NRL grand final

The Broncos know they will need to be at 100 per cent to down the Panthers in Sydney this weekend to stop the Panthers reign at the top of the NRL. And there were concerns on Tuesday with Reece Walsh, Adam Reynolds and Herbie Farnworth all receiving treatment at training.

The most serious issue appears to revolve around Farnworth, with the star centre leaving training early and not returning. The English international emerged with strapping on his upper leg for what appears to be a hamstring or quad issue. "He said, 'I'll be right', in his accent," Forward Kobe Hetherington said after the session. "He's a tough bugger. He'll be right to go."

Reads 'NRL Finals 2023' with the cut out images of three players throwing a football - Cameron Munster, Nathan Cleary and Reece Walsh, with a backdrop of a football stadium.
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Star fullback Walsh also appeared to pick up a hamstring or glute issue and was seen on the ground for around eight minutes receiving assistance from Broncos physiotherapist Luke Anning. The 21-year-old could be seen kicking his left leg out in the minutes after receiving treatment, but managed to re-join the main group and completed the session.

"He was still running around," Broncos centre Kotoni Staggs said of Walsh, dismissing the scare.

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