Courageous Cleary guides Panthers to gutsy win
Racked with headaches and an IV drip in his arm, a courageous Nathan Cleary discharged himself from hospital to score a try and secure man of the match honours after a four-day battle with a severe facial infection.
The Panthers secured a crucial 20-12 win over South Sydney at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium after Cleary spent six hours on Wednesday in Nepean Hospital with cellulitis, a skin infection.
Normally a sharpshooter, Cleary bombed his first three kicks at goal after revelations his eye sight was impacted through the ugly infection which contorted his face. Post-game television interviews were cancelled by a self-conscious Cleary.
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He was issued antibiotics through an IV drip in hospital and also underwent scans to ensure the infection hadn't spread. Cleary's forehead seemed to swell as the game progressed.
The infection set in on Monday and his condition became progressively worse before Penrith's medial staff encouraged him to enter hospital.
It was a gutsy effort from Cleary to ignore pain and help guide his Panthers to a fifth victory this season. And he did it with NSW coach Brad Fittler sitting sideline for Channel 9.
A 77th minute try to Cleary sealed the match before he was given a brief and well-earned rest. The Panthers have lost just one game this season and, for now, sit on top of the NRL ladder.
"It is the best game I have seen Nathan play," said Immortal Andrew Johns.
Cleary's confidence would have been further dented when whacked high during the first set of six by South Sydney's Cam Murray. In general play, Cleary was influential and effective while forwards James Tamou and James Fisher-Harris were powerful.
Asked about his son, Panthers coach Ivan Cleary said: "He turned up Monday and his face was pretty swollen. Come Wednesday, we worked out the antibiotics weren't really working and it got worse so he was in hospital most of Wednesday.
"He definitely wanted to play but infections are a little bit tricky, especially around the face. He had scans to make sure it hadn't gotten into the sinus area. Once that was clear and the swelling went down a little bit, he was right. But it was still a big effort to come out and play well.
"His eyes were pretty puffed up for a couple of days and he was getting a lot of headaches because of the pressure. He is probably a bit embarrassed - he looked way worse yesterday."
Cheekily, Ivan added: "His modelling career is over."
Cleary's opposite, South Sydney skipper Adam Reynolds, also endured an injury problem. He damaged his hamstring late in the game and, while he remained on the field, he clearly impacted. The injury shouldn't be long-term.
South Sydney was down to 11 men late in the game when star players James Roberts and Latrell Mitchell were sin-binned for professional fouls. The Rabbitohs were disappointing, coach Wayne Bennett's press conference running for just 95 seconds.
Asked about Cleary, Bennett said: "I wasn't watching Nathan Cleary to be honest you."
Before 74 passionate yet noisy Panthers fans from on a chilly Sydney night, the Panthers continued to surprise the NRL. Most felt the Panthers would be well-performed this season but few would have had them losing just one match after seven rounds.
They were clearly the better side last night and probably should have won by more against a Souths side who sustained a fourth loss this season.
The Rabbitohs entered the game having won two consecutive games against New Zealand Warriors and Gold Coast Titans but last night was a step-up in class. Souths are yet to establish themselves a genuine contender.
Bayley Sironen - the son of former great Paul and the brother of Manly champion Curtis - scored his first NRL try to guide Souths back into the game before Panthers fullback Dylan Edwards - playing just his second game of the year - scored in the 60th minute try before Cleary sealed the match.
Penrith lost winger Josh Mansour before kick-off through a knee injury, Naden the replacement. It was unusual watching Penrith play South Sydney at the famous of home of St George Illawarra.
Originally published as Courageous Cleary guides Panthers to gutsy win