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'Shattered': Cleary's hamstring flare-up leaves Madge's NSW plans in tatters as Panthers grind out Dogs

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Editor
10th May, 2024
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Nathan Cleary limped off BlueBet Stadium just before half-time in Penrith’s 16-10 win over the Bulldogs after aggravating his hamstring injury, throwing Michael Maguire’s NSW Origin plans further into disarray.

“He’s pretty shattered,” said coach Ivan Cleary. “It’s very disappointing for him, obviously I’m sort of torn between his coach and his dad right now.

“Very disappointing, especially I thought that first half he was really starting to come into his own, but anyway, the show goes on.

“Just have to get a scan and see the damage and then we’ll go from there. He felt it straight away, so he knew. That would suggest it’s decent.”

His absence in the second half saw the Panthers heavily blunted in attack, adding only penalty goals after the break, but their defence was more than enough to hold on against a Dogs side that defended well but showed very little in attack.

Tries from Luke Garner and Brian To’o had given Penrith a lead and, though the Dogs chucked it late and got two back, the die had long been cast.

“We came here confident but I reckon we’re leaving even more confident,” said Canterbury coach Cameron Ciraldo.

“Physically, we’re looking a lot better but we’re still a work in progress. The more we play together, the more we train, the better we’ll get.”

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The injury to Cleary overshadowed anything that happened in the second half.

The Panthers captain has missed several weeks with the same injury earlier in the year, returned for the win against the Cowboys, was then rested again last week for the victory over South Sydney and brought back tonight.

Fox League sideline reporter Lara Pitt said Panthers medics described the injury as ‘no good’ at half time and that Cleary himself was ‘devastated’ in the sheds.

It is the second such injury in two days. Tom Trbojevic, a walk-up starter for the Blues, left Manly’s defeat to the Dolphins with a hamstring complaint and had subsequently been ruled out of all three games of Origin.

Cam Murray is also out long term with a hip problem, Ryan Papenhuyzen has broken his ankle and Latrell Mitchell is debating making himself unavailable.

Canterbury hold themselves back

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These are the best two defensive sides in the in terms of metres conceded and looked like it.

The combination of the conditions, the strengths of both sides and the mirror image defensive systems led to a very cagey opening period that the Dogs shaded on field position but failed to make the most of the scoreboard.

Canterbury did have two line breaks – both from deep enough for the Panthers to defend – but close in, failed to fire a shot and were relatively easy to defend.

The question thereafter would be if they could do the same when the pendulum inevitably swung back to the Panthers.

They couldn’t, with Garner able to open the scoring.

Though the backrower did superbly to get the ball down with several men on him, it was the lead-up that said it all: Cleary had won a set restart, Dylan Edwards created a quick ruck and Jarome Luai added the final pass.

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For the second try, To’o weaved through multiple tackles after the slightest of openings to turn a half chance into four points.

The two moments spoke to the wider story of the game, which was how much better Penrith were in the 20m zones.

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Between the two ends, this was a 50/50 fight.

Canterbury competed, defended and played the grinding style that has helped them put together some decent results this year.

With a spine of Connor Tracey – preferred to Blake Taaffe before kick-off – and two running halves, Burton and Drew Hutchison, this was always like to happen.

They can look ponderous at the best of times, but against a Panthers side with this defence, it was always going to be a problem.

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Ciraldo clearly identified this game as one in which he wanted his side to prove all they have learned over the last year.

Naturally, he sees the Panthers as the standard – who wouldn’t? – and the ideal of how he wants his side to play.

The coach likely thinks that if he can get the system to work like this on the toughest possible assignment, he’ll be able to move the squad further forward in easier games.

He might also think that he can add to the key positions, which still need work, and ice those moments on future occasions.

But it could also be that the Dogs played far, far too conservatively and could have got somewhere in the here and now, too.

Beating Penrith at their own game was never likely to work, but this was something else.

Well before they started dropping the ball late, they were ten sets behind on the count due to lack of endeavour, with few set restarts or penalties earned.

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They did eventually have a crack, with ten to play and nothing to lose, and suddenly saw results. One wonders what might have been possible if they’d have done that when in good ball in the first half as well.

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