Panthers make call on Nathan Cleary's return to NRL amid development with Mary Fowler

Penrith will be without their gun halfback for a third NRL game in a row.

Panthers coach Ivan Cleary has revealed superstar halfback Nathan won't make his return to the NRL this week as he continues to recover from a hamstring injury. Nathan Cleary hasn't played since the third round of the NRL season, and was thought to be targeting this weekend's clash with the Wests Tigers for his return.

But it emerged last week that he wasn't progressing as quickly as the Panthers expected, which has resulted in his comeback being delayed. Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Ivan said his son won't play against the Tigers in Bathurst on Saturday but could return for the following game against the Cowboys.

Nathan Cleary and Mary Fowler.
Nathan Cleary and Mary Fowler got to spend some quality time together. Image: Mary Fowler/AAP

“He’s going well, but he probably just had a little bit more awareness at the start than we thought based on the scans, so we just moved it out a bit to change the plan,” Ivan Cleary said on Tuesday. “We’re still pretty hopeful [he’ll be back] next week. He probably could have played this week, but it’s until he does more training and that sort of stuff.

“He had more awareness (in the hamstring) than we thought he would, so you’ve got to respect that. He’s been doing heaps (of running), but now he needs to gravitate back to team stuff, which he has been doing. Until he can do the whole thing for a week, we won’t play him.”

Nathan Cleary gets some rare quality time with Mary Fowler

Cleary has been using his injury layoff to spend some quality time with girlfriend Mary Fowler, who has stepped up their relationship on social media. Cleary and Fowler have been fairly private ever since their romance was made public late last year.

They've only been seen in public together a couple of times, and have posted a few photos on social media looking loved up. But the relationship went to a new level this week with a photo Fowler posted on Instagram.


Previously, photos of Cleary and Fowler together have only been hidden away in the middle of carousels, meaning followers had to click through in order to find them. But on Monday, Fowler featured a photo of her and Cleary for all to see as the first pic in a collection of snaps.

The Panthers' official account posted a king and queen emoji, while many suggested it was Fowler 'hard launching' their relationship. The power couple rarely get to see each other in person due to their sporting commitments, with Fowler playing in the UK with Manchester City.

Fellow Matildas player Clare Wheeler commented on the photo on Monday, "Project surprise was a go", suggesting either Fowler flew home to see Cleary or the Panthers halfback jetted off to the UK. With the Panthers enjoying a bye last week, the latter appears a likely possibility.

Panthers sweating on Nathan Cleary's return from injury

The Panthers will be sweating on the fitness of their superstar halfback after he suffered a small setback in his recovery last week. The Panthers beat the Roosters in their first game without the gun halfback, but were trounced by the Sea Eagles in the following match.

Teammates were tight-lipped when discussing when Cleary might return on Monday. “I’m not sure if it was last week or how long ago it was, but there was a little, tiny setback, but I’m not sure where that sits in terms of his return to play,” fullback Dylan Edwards told reporters.

“Whenever he’s ready, he’ll be ready. He’s not one to sit out an extra week if he’s ready to go. In saying that, hammies are tricky so you’ve got to make sure it’s ready before you’re ready to go. Our medical staff are second to none, and he’s well-known to be as diligent as anyone in terms of his rehab.”

Nathan Cleary, pictured here in action for the Panthers against the Broncos.
Nathan Cleary in action for the Panthers against the Broncos.

Panthers on guard for another Wests Tigers ambush in Bathurst

The Panthers were ambushed by the lowly Tigers in the corresponding fixture in Bathurst last year, and they won't be taking Benji Marshall's resurgent side lightly. Carrington Park was the site of one of the great boilovers of the 2023 season, when Penrith were shocked by the Tigers in a rain-soaked 12-8 loss.

"It was a nice rainy night and they played the conditions better than we did," Edwards said. "They simplified their footy and we didn't play the greatest brand of footy. (This year) they're playing hard and they're playing for each other. They're hanging in for long periods of the game so I expect no different on the weekend."

Centre Izack Tago said the Panthers needed to be mindful of the threat Api Koroisau poses out of dummy-half after the former Penrith player starred last year. "They ambushed us and they got us," Tago said.

"They're going really well and they've got a lot of potential. He (Koroisau) is being appreciated now for what he does for that team."

with agencies