Sad news from Penrith Panther…

Panthers hang on but lose Cleary with Blues star in ‘extreme doubt’ for Origin – 3 Big Hits

The Panthers hung on for a gutsy 26-18 win over the Dragons on Sunday night after losing Nathan Cleary early in the game.

NSW halfback Cleary went down with a hamstring injury and is now in serious doubt for State of Origin Game 2 in on June 21.

Cleary left the game in the 16th minute and didn’t return after suffering the injury while running back in defence on Sunday night.

The 25-year-old was backing up on a four-day turnaround after playing 80 minutes in the Origin opener last Wednesday, which the Blues lost.

“That’s not a minor tweak, that looks like he’s done a pretty good job of it,” Warren Smith said on Fox League.

“It’s 17 days until Origin Game 2 and you’d think his chances of playing in that game are 1000-1 at this stage.”

“That’s a massive blow. He knew straight away he wasn’t in good shape,” Shane Flanagan said.

“In my experience those injuries are at least three or four weeks.”

Jack Cogger replaced Cleary and was superb on his club debut as Penrith chalked up their eighth win of the season and now sit on top of the ladder.

Cleary watched the rest of the match with a compression band and ice on his hamstring and club doctors said they’re hoping it’s a low grade tear. He’ll go for scans on Monday.

“You could tell he was in trouble immediately, you could see by the look on his face that’s more than just a twinge,” Blues assistant coach Greg Alexander said on Fox League.

“He tried to take off there and you could see him hobbling and when it was tested he was immediately off the field.

“Nathan Cleary is a tough footballer so you’re thinking that something like that, to force him off and be so noticeably bad, there’s got to be some serious issues there.”

“Yeah that’s more than just a twinge, that’s sharp pain. When you do you hammy that sharply and pull up and hobble, it tends to be significant,” Cooper Cronk responded.

“The other part too is the body language, he looks like he knows something pretty serious has happened there and Origin is not too far away, huge concerns.”

“He’s in extreme doubt for Origin Game 2,” Matty Johns said.

The Dragons went ahead 2-0 in the seventh minute via a Zac Lomax penalty goal, but the lead didn’t last long.

Cleary threw a pinpoint cut-out pass for winger Brian To’o to score in the corner in the 11th minute.

“Harbour Bridge ball and there’s plenty of space out there, Brian To’o score the first try,” Smith said.

But the Dragons hit back when Mikaele Ravalawa barged his way over in the 15th minuteand Lomax nailed the sideline conversion.

Ravalawa bagged the 10th double of his career in the when he showed great strength to score in the corner.

“He’s such a great finisher, so strong and powerful and he just finds a way every time,” Flanagan said.

To’o scored his second on the stroke of halftime after collecting a pinpoint kick from Cogger.

“That was a perfectly weighted kick and you can’t do it any better than that,” Smith said.

“Big shoes to fill but he wasn’t training all week and I was in there so I know what to do,” Cogger told Fox League at halftime.

Stephen Crichton slotted a penalty goal to give the Panthers back the lead in the 45th minute.

The Dragons were stitched up when the touch judge found a phantom knock on in the 59th minute and Penrith marched down field and scored.

Referee Chris Sutton correctly ruled Mathew Fegai knocked the ball backwards but changed his call after a message from the touch judge.

Penrith then went 90 metres in the ensuing five tackles and winger Sunia Turuva scored in the corner off an Izack Tago grubber.

“Fantastic play, they’re just never dead the Panthers,” Flanagan said.

“I can’t believe the Dragons didn’t challenge the earlier decision.”

There was a long break in play in the 62nd minute when Dragons forward Jack de Belin was knocked out while tackling and stretchered off.

He was later cleared of serious injury but the concussion was ruled a category one which means he won’t play against Souths next week.

Lomax hauled in a bomb to score in the 66th minute then nailed the conversion to lock up the scores at 18-18.

But Isaah Yeo put the Panthers back ahead when he offloaded for Moses Leota to score in the 72nd minute.

Tyrell Sloan looked to have squared things up again with five minutes to play but his try was rubbed out due to obstruction and the Panthers hung on.

Here are three talking points out of the match from NCA Newswire’s Matt Cleary.


The Panthers welcomed back six players from State of Origin, one of whom, Cleary, floated a fine harbour bridge pass for another, Brian To’o, who scored Penrith’s first try and finished with a double.

Lock Isaah Yeo set up the match-winning try when he offloaded for prop Moses Leota. Liam Martin, Jarome Luai and Stephen Crichton played strongly.

The Dragons’ sole Origin player Ben Hunt, who played 52 minutes four days previously, kicked well, recorded two try assists and chased his own kick to make a brilliant tackle on Dylan Edwards.

With Cleary’s injury and fullbacks apparently in vogue to fill backline positions, Fittler may consider consistent Panthers fullback Edwards who topped the game’s run metres with 196m and made four tackle breaks.

Edwards leads the league in average run metres per game (210), average runs per game (21.3) and tackle breaks (86).


In the 60th minute Dragons left winger Mathew Fegai appeared to knock the ball backwards following a kick that referee Chris Sutton signalled was a knock-back. Yet it appeared the assistant referee over-ruled the call.

Bizarrely, Dragons captain Hunt didn’t challenge before Sunia Turuva scored for the Panthers on the opposite wing in the next set.

It seemed that Sloan’s try under the posts with four minutes to go would tie things up but James Fisher-Harris was hiding behind Ben Murdoch-Masila and was deemed obstructed.


Dragons backrower Jack De Belin was down for a long period in the second half after suffering a head knock attempting a front-on tackle on Lindsay Smith. De Belin was attended by several medical staff and stretchered off.

Later vision showed De Belin moving around in the dressing sheds. De Belin will now miss the Dragons’ round 15 fixture against South Sydney which was to be his 200th NRL game.

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