The Penrith Panthers have been dealt a major blow, with star halfback Nathan Cleary’s NRL season in doubt due to a shoulder injury.
Cleary suffered the injury early in NSW’s 26-0 State of Origin Game 2 win over Queensland, with reports that scans on Tuesday located a tear in his shoulder. Surgery is currently being considered, which could rule him out for the remainder of the season.
The star number seven has already been ruled out of Origin 3 by Blues coach Brad Fittler, who had already admitted that Cleary was “pretty unlikely” to get up for July 14’s series finale.
“He went down pretty hard on his shoulder,” Fittler said on SEN Radio.
“We’re just sort of hoping that everything will be good enough that he’ll be back fighting for the Panthers soon enough.
“He’s had a great start to the season, and he’s under a lot of pressure, but he more than stood up on the big stage.”
The news is a hammer blow to the Panthers’ premiership hopes, with the co-captain enjoying a tremendous year to leave the Panthers sitting second on the ladder heading into the final home-and-away rounds. Albeit without a number of other stars on Origin duty, the Panthers’ consecutive losses sans Cleary to the Tigers and Sharks suggests that filling his shoes will be difficult.
The outgoing Matt Burton is likely to replace Cleary at seven in the Panthers’ starting line-up, but according to Nine News reporter Michael Chammas, the club’s injury dispensation should he be ruled out for the remainder of the season could encourage them to lure a rival halfback to Bluebet Stadium.
If Cleary is out for the year, Penrith entitled to up to $350K rep injury dispensation for like-for-like replacement.
Burton will be the 7 but there'll be halfbacks queuing outside Panthers to join team for rest of season. Johnson? Norman? Widdop? Flanagan? Milford? Benji?
— Michael Chammas (@MichaelChammas) June 29, 2021
With the Blues having already secured the Origin series with Sunday night’s win, the news is only a minor blip. The Eels’ Mitchell Moses and the Rabbitohs’ Adam Reynolds are rumoured to be the likeliest replacements for Cleary in their Game 3 squad.
Follow along with all the latest team news for Origin 3 here on The Roar.