Nathan Cleary given horror diagnosis in brutal NRL setback as Blues face halfback crisis

Cleary is facing six to eight weeks on the sideline after re-injuring his hamstring against the Bulldogs.

Penrith and NSW Blues fans' worst fears have been realised after scans revealed Nathan Cleary suffered a grade two hamstring tear in the Panthers' 16-10 win over the Bulldogs on Friday night. The injury means the Penrith half will be sidelined for six to eight weeks, likely ruling him out of the entire State of Origin series.

Cleary had scans late on Saturday night with the Panthers receiving official word of the extent of the injury on Sunday. It is expected that Penrith will take a conservative approach with their superstar, meaning he will likely miss the next two months of football.

Pictured Nathan Cleary left and with Nicho Hynes right
Nathan Cleary is facing six to eight weeks on the sideline after re-injuring his hamstring against the Bulldogs. Image: Getty

The Panthers star knew immediately his night was over on Friday, reaching for his hamstring and coming straight off the field after pulling up abruptly chasing his own kick in the first half of the clash with the Bulldogs. Cleary has managed just five games this season after first succumbing to a hamstring injury in round three.

The club took a conservative approach with their halfback then as they knew his irreplaceable value to the team but it still was unable to save their star player from re-injuring the same hamstring. A grade two tear is the same injury that has sidelined Manly fullback Tom Trbojevic for the next two months.


Cleary's injury isn't just bad news for the Panthers, with the Blues now facing somewhat of a halves crisis. The race now for the NSW No.6 and No. 7 jersey is wide open.

The competition for spots likely lies between Nicho Hynes, Mitch Moses, Jarome Luai, Cody Walker and Matt Burton, with both the No.6 and No.7 jerseys up for grabs. It has been a horror weekend for new Blues coach Michael Maguire, with a raft of injuries to players seemingly locked in for an Origin place.

Ordinarily, Moses would be the obvious Cleary replacement but the Parramatta playmaker has been out in recent weeks with a foot injury. The Parramatta halfback may return from a foot injury against Melbourne next Sunday but he is far from a certain to play.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 12:  Mitchell Moses of the Blues and Cody Walker of the Blues celebrate after winning game three of the State of Origin series between New South Wales Blues and Queensland Maroons at Accor Stadium on July 12, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
Mitchell Moses and Cody Walker's chances of Blues selection have firmed after injuries to Nathan Cleary and Nicho Hynes.

If he does not feature in that match, he will have only one game - against South Sydney on May 25 - before Maguire names his first Origin side. While Hynes had been favoured for the five-eighth spot but he was ruled out of the Sharks' round 10 match against the Storm with a calf injury. The Sharks medicos said his late withdrawal was precautionary but it does cast doubt over his fitness heading into Game I.

While Maguire will also be without star centre Trbojevic. The 2021 Wally Lewis Medal will likely miss the entire series after hurting his hamstring while trying to make a cover tackle against the Dolphins on Thursday night. And fellow fullback-turned-centre Latrell Mitchell is also reportedly considering making himself unavailable for NSW amid Souths' horror start to the season, casting further doubt over Maguire's backline for Game I.

Panthers star Jarome Luai says the latest injury setback for his halves partner is "heartbreaking". Last year, a hamstring injury ruled Cleary out of Origin II and III and the latest injury is a cruel blow to Cleary weeks out from this year's Origin series.

But Luai says that missing out on playing for the Blues is just the tip of the iceberg, stating that his recent injury struggles have taken a toll on the star halfback. "It's not really about Origin," Luai said.

"It's about his well-being, about his health, at the end of the day. I'm sort of heartbroken, in a way. His spirits are pretty down. He's done it three times in a row now.

"It'll be frustrating for him. He loves his footy and he wants to play with the boys. I feel for him. I know what he's feeling but we've got good energy among this team and we'll get around him for sure."