Matildas fans have blasted the level of attention placed on Nathan Cleary during Wednesday night's game against Chinese Taipei, with the Penrith Panthers star cheering on girlfriend Mary Fowler from the stands. After weeks of speculation that the Aussie sporting stars are dating, Cleary and Fowler took their relationship public on Wednesday.
They were spotted sharing a cuddle in Perth on Wednesday afternoon, before Cleary attended the Matildas game at HBF Park to watch Fowler play just hours later. The three-time NRL premiership winner couldn't contain his smile when Fowler scored a stunning long-range goal in the 62nd minute, as the striker sent the 20,000-strong crowd into meltdown.
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But the fact broadcasters switched straight to Cleary in the stands less than two seconds after Fowler's strike found the back of the net left a sour taste in the mouths of many. Viewers flocked to social media to decry the level of attention placed on the NRL star, with many believing it was disrespectful to Fowler - especially considering her incredible goal.
Cleary was flashed on viewers' screens a number of times throughout the game, with fellow spectators flocking to snap a photo with him. “Fowler needs all the screen time for that goal, not Nathan Cleary, please Channel 10," one person wrote on social media.
Another commented: "Just don’t want a minute of Cleary when Fowler scores because it is not about him. Y'all weren’t panning to the other girls’ spouses when they’ve been there so why start with Cleary. Personally i’m watching for the girls and their goals not their partners."
A third person wrote: “Stop showing Nathan Cleary. Mary Fowler is a star on her own and in her own right. Let her have her moment without showing his face. Who she is dating should have nothing to do with this game.”
Plenty of others joked that Fowler had now "put Cleary on the map", while many made the comparison to NFL player Travis Kelce and pop star Taylor Swift. But according to a close source, the negative backlash is exactly what Cleary didn't want.
A friend of the NRL star told Yahoo Australia: “Nath and Mary have been talking for months now and kept it quiet to avoid all of this. Away from when they’re playing, neither of them care about being famous or in the papers. Nathan hates having to do media and interviews. They just want to play and then have a quiet life and get on with it, not become some kind of power couple.”
— Lachie Eames (@lachie__14) November 1, 2023
Fowler needs all the screen time for that goal, not Nathan Cleary, please Channel 10 #Matildas
— Ruby Rose (@ruby_rose94) November 1, 2023
Mary Fowler GOAL, camera operator at the game turns the camera onto Nathan Cleary 😂😂 #AUSvTPE
— denni egan (@dennije24) November 1, 2023
it has been noted that nathan cleary was caught sitting after Fowler's goal 📝
— Angela Christian-Wilkes (@CaptainAngelo) November 1, 2023
Matildas coach lauds Mary Fowler after Matildas victory
Fowler's goal was the first of three the Matildas scored in their win over Chinese Taipei, which moved them one step closer to qualifying for the 2024 Olympics in Paris. With wins over Iran, Philippines and Chinese Taipei, Tony Gustavsson's side finished top of their group and advanced to a two-leg playoff with Uzbekistan in February in which the winner will make the Olympics.
Fowler shot to prominence at the Women's World Cup earlier this year, and the 20-year-old appears destined for superstardom - perhaps even in the stratosphere of legendary captain Sam Kerr. "How am I going to keep the expectations down on that one now?" Gustavsson quipped when asked about Fowler's rising profile.
"The funny thing is that when she pulls off that goal tonight - that's what we see in training every day. Left foot, right foot, inside of the foot, laces, clipped balls.
"She's quick at decision making, she knows exactly where the goal is and where the goalkeeper is and where the opening is. And her finishing is just one of a kind. I think Sam (Kerr) has said it before - it's one of the best finishes she's ever played with.
"I think one of the reasons why Mary can be Mary is because the other players around allow her just to be Mary and then adjust to that so she can play free from fear and just enjoy the game. That's what I want her to keep doing no matter what happens in terms of expectations or headlines. Just be Mary."
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