Nathan Cleary facing five-week ban after send-off for dangerous spear tackle

Star playmaker Nathan Cleary will go into Penrith’s finals campaign cold after receiving a five-game suspension for his spear tackle on Parramatta’s Dylan Brown.

Cleary was sent off for the first time in his career in Friday’s 34-10 loss to the Eels and won’t play again during the regular season. He was handed a grade-three dangerous throw charge by the NRL’s match review committee on Saturday morning.

The Panthers playmaker wrapped one arm around Brown’s waist and the other around his leg as he lifted and drove him into the ground, leading to the NSW star to exit the game in the 17th minute, with his side down 12-4.

“Hands are between his legs, you drove him into the ground — you’re off,” referee Todd Smith said as he pointed to the sheds.

The 24-year-old Cleary looked shattered immediately in the aftermath of the incident, repeatedly tapping his forehead with his fist after being sent him from the field.

Legendary halfback Johnathan Thurston described the incident as “uncharacteristic” from the Panthers co-captain. “I don’t see him as a dirty player, but he’s got his hand in that position in his groin. He’s lifted him up and he’s drove him straight into the ground,” the Cowboys great said on Nine’s coverage.

“He could be in even more trouble because he rearranged his right arm. He’s got his arm around his back and then he rearranges it and puts it in between (Brown’s) legs.”

Manly’s Karl Lawton received a four-week suspension in May after taking an early guilty plea on a grade three dangerous throw charge, in Round 8. However the tackle on Brown is Cleary’s second charge for the season after he was fined $1,000 for a dangerous contact offence in Round 6 against the Broncos, meaning the NSW pivot is looking down the barrel of a five-match ban.

If he takes the early guilty plea – a course of action which is likely for the Panthers, who are already without five-eighth Jarome Luai for the next month due to a knee injury – he would return for week one of the finals.

Cleary will miss Penrith’s five remaining regular season games against Canberra, Melbourne, South Sydney, the Warriors and North Queensland as they aim to wrap up the minor premiership, defend their 2021 title and contest a third-straight decider.

In the unlikely event he fights the charge and then loses at the judiciary, Cleary will miss six games.

Thankfully for both Cleary and Brown, the Parramatta five-eighth suffered no serious injury after being driven into the ground at CommBank Stadium head first. Brown said he was shocked at the collision but didn’t believe there was any malice or intent from Cleary.

Cleary, whose hopes of winning the Dally M Medal are now over, expressed immediate regret on Friday night.

“Massive apologies for tonight (Friday),” he posted on Instagram. “(I’m) filthy at myself for such a dumb moment that let the boys and the fans down. I’m not about that, it was a terrible technique and I need to be better.”

With Luai and Cleary sidelined, Penrith coach Ivan Cleary will be forced to lean heavily on Sean O’Sullivan, Kurt Falls and Jaeman Salmon over the next five weeks.

The halfback lost control of Brown while involved in a tackle with Liam Martin and James Fisher-Harris in the 17th minute of Friday’s game. It left referee Todd Smith with no option but to send the playmaker off. Cleary became the first Panthers player to be dismissed in an NRL game since Travis Burns in 2012.

“I think all the boys know if they’ve been in that position they would feel the same,” said father and coach Ivan. “I don’t think he meant to do it. He’s done a fair bit for our team over the years. I know Nat pretty well and this will fuel his fire for later.”