Origin coaches Billy Slater and Brad Fittler have come under fire for suggesting Nathan Cleary be handed a lighter suspension due to his character and standing in the game.
Cleary accepted a five-week ban following his send off for an ugly lifting tackle on Eels star Dylan Brown over the weekend.
Slater, however, couldn’t fathom Cleary being rubbed out for an extended period of time.
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“Do we need to be wiping our best players out of the competition for a quarter of the season for one mistake that they make?” Slater said on Channel Nine’s Billy’s Breakdown.
It was a sentiment echoed by Phil Gould.
“I don’t think we need good players out of the game for six weeks to remind them that that’s not what you do,” he said on 100% Footy.
“That’s just an error of judgement. I know this Penrith tackling technique very well, he’s probably thinking his other two players would support that player a little better than they did. They pulled away from it and he found himself in an awkward position.
“Does Nathan Cleary need six weeks away from the game to learn his lesson that’s the wrong tackle to make? He knew it six seconds after he did it that it was wrong.
“They probably want to send a message to the rest of the competition, they want it to look like the star players don’t get special treatment.”
St George forward Aaron Woods, however, was enraged by the stance.
“Freddy and Billy Slater were coming out and saying ‘he’s a good bloke and we don’t want to be missing these good players before semi-finals’,” Woods said on triple m
“That’s bull crap if you ask me.
“He had a prior charge already on Billy Walters earlier on in the year.
“He would have got four weeks, but he had that and that’s an extra week.
“Freddy came out and said that Liam Martin helped it a bit – no he didn’t. He pulled off the tackle and you see Cleary re-grip and get a hand in between the leg.
“That’s the difference between the one with Karl Lawton at the start of the year…(that tackle) was fully momentum, he got around the waist with both hands and it was just a driving tackle and luckily (Cameron) Murray twisted and landed in a really good position.
“Dylan Brown was still on the ground, you could see how hurt he was and he (Cleary) had all the intent. Just because he comes out on Instagram and says ‘I’m sorry and it was totally out of character’ – that’s what happens on a rugby league field.
“Things can go one way or the other and it obviously had no malice, but that’s just part of the game.
Woods said Cleary was far from a clean skin
“It’s a joke – remember he got in trouble for the TikTok? People forget about that as well. I got 10 in the bin the other week and was like ‘mate you shouldn’t have done that’ but everyone else was like ‘sucked in’.
“If Jared Waerea-Hargreaves does the spear tackle, we’d give him life in this game.
“It just frustrates me, just because they are the players they like – call a spade a spade.”
The NRL360 panel also took aim at those suggesting Clearly be afforded special treatment.
“I heard Billy Slater talking after the game saying how Nathan doesn’t need five weeks on the sideline to realize he’s made a mistake, but you have to put him out,” Paul Kent said on Monday night.
“You just have to do that.”
“What do you mean he doesn’t need five weeks out to learn?,” Braith Anasta questioned.
“Because Nathan’s smart enough to correct it and he knows he made a blue,” Kent replied.
“But why was he saying, why was Billy Slater saying that,” Anasta hit back.
“He wasn’t agreeing with the five week penalty, he was thinking one or two weeks could have been enough,” Kent answered.
“Because it’s Nathan Cleary?” Anasta asked.
“Because it’s Nathan Cleary yes,” Kent said.
The Panthers will now play the remainder of the regular season with Jarome Luai out with a knee injury and Cleary hit with a five match suspension.