Cleary nears best after avoiding NRL ban

Scott Bailey |

Nathan Cleary believes he is edging closer to being back to his best after the Penrith star avoided an NRL ban for his old-school Cumberland throw on Billy Walters.

An immediately apologetic Cleary was only charged with grade-one dangerous contact on Walters.

It means the Panthers halfback will be free to face Canberra on Sunday week, with Penrith gunning for a stunning 21st straight win at home.

Now three weeks back from his off-season shoulder surgery, Cleary had his best game of the season against Brisbane as he set up three tries, kicked superbly and broke the line once himself.

It came just days after he signed a new five-year deal alongside father Ivan, as a further reminder Penrith will be a force into the future.

“I still feel like I’m trying to get the timing back,” Cleary said.

“But I definitely felt most comfortable (against the Broncos) and still trying to build into it.

“The thing about being out for so long, you sort of miss that timing and you’re trying to get your legs back and get into the game.

“My shoulder feels really good, it’s not confidence in the shoulder at all.

“It’s just trying to get back into the flow of it and confidence in terms of my ball playing and trusting things I see and doing them.”

Cleary’s shoulder has passed arguably its biggest test on the field too.

Missed by most early in the game, the 24-year old charged through on a kick and was able to launch himself at the ball before landing comfortably.

It was the kind of incident that would have put fear into Penrith trainers last year, given his shoulder was hurt and needed post-season surgery after falling on it in State of Origin.

Part of his battle to play on in 2021 has included learning how to fall safely using gymnastics mats, a trait he has continued into this year.

“I was pretty happy with that, I attacked it as hard as I could and I didn’t even think about it when I was chasing it. That was a good sign for me,” Cleary said.

“Last year, if I ended up in a position, I’d try and tuck it in quickly so I wasn’t stuck out there.

“It’s subconscious now … I put a lot of work in with the physios.”

Cleary, meanwhile, revealed he also immediately apologised to Walters after the contact which has earned him a $1000 fine.

Rushing out of the line, his legs became tangled around Walters’ before the incident was labelled as really dangerous by Andrew Johns in Nine Network commentary.

“I just said sorry to him (Walters) as soon as it happened,” Cleary said.

“It just got awkward. I rushed out of the line and he was slipping out of it and I tried to take him to the ground and fell awkwardly.

“I would never try to injure someone.”