Star’s odd look mystifies NRL world
Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary became the centre of attention during his side's clash against South Sydney because of a new look that hit viewers right between the eyes.
There were reports prior to kick-off he hadn't trained much during the week because of a possible infection and early in Thursday night's match he was collected high by Bunnies lock Cameron Murray.
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Normally a sharpshooter who before tonight had nailed 15 of 16 conversion attempts, Cleary missed both of his kicks as Penrith scored two first-half tries to take an 8-0 lead into the break.
He didn't just miss them, he completely mis-kicked them as the ball wobbled off his boot. Cleary was also sporting a bandage on his nose, leading commentators to question whether a possible infection or the high shot was hurting him.
At halftime, Fox League presenter Yvonne Sampson said: "Nathan Cleary, now he - I don't know if he's got double vision or what's happening - but he's shanked two conversions which is very un-Nathan Cleary like.
"It's very swollen. And that would be very off-putting. I would think when you're going in for your kicks … it is such a precision routine that you go through and anything that would be distracting or throwing you off, that would be very off-putting.
"Looks very painful."
Ex-Melbourne and Roosters playmaker Cooper Cronk said "You don't know whether he went into the game with it or it came from the incident with Cam Murray" while former NSW hooker Michael Ennis also chimed in.
"He seems to be sporting some sort of big bump between the eyes. We've heard infection maybe, I'm not sure," he said.
Cleary was seen applying ice to the bridge of his nose but that didn't help as he missed another conversion halfway through the second stanza by his biggest margin yet.
"That's his worst ever. That is all over the place," Fox commentator Andrew Voss said.
Cleary finally slotted a penalty to make it 14-6 with 10 minutes remaining but even then, the ball just cleared the crossbar after the No. 7 again failed to make a clean connection.
"What's going on?" Voss said.
Penrith's left edge terrorised the South Sydney defence as the Panthers dominated the first half before some wild action shortly before the buzzer.
Winger Josh Mansour was ruled out with injury but his replacement on the left wing Brent Naden was seeing plenty of opportunities as the Bunnies struggled.
Naden opened the scoring in the sixth minute when Penrith created an overlap after teammate Viliame Kikau batted down a bomb. It wasn't long before Naden saw further chances, but he was stopped short of the paint on one occasion and in another instance, was bundled out of play when he looked certain to touch down in the corner.
The Panthers kept targeting the left edge and teenage centre Stephen Crichton added four points to their total when he latched onto a Jarome Luai grubber for an 8-0 advantage.
Latrell Mitchell was having an ordinary night at fullback for Souths and he was in the thick of things during a wild 60 second passage of play. He charged onto the ball when a kick downfield found him on the full, advancing at full steam over the halfway line with a barnstorming run.
But not for the first time in the game he dropped the Steeden on the first tackle. Determined to make up for his error, he immediately redeemed himself by stripping the ball from Crichton, but the loose ball spilled out to the Rabbits' 20m line and it was a foot race between Naden and Souths centre Dane Gagai.
Naden clearly tackled Gagai without the ball but the Queensland back still regained possession. The Bunnies struggled to make any ground but halfback Adam Reynolds' kick found the grass and it was knocked on by Brian To'o - ending the minute of carnage.
Souths bumbled their way through their next attacking set, leading Fox League commentator Braith Anasta to hit out at the team's attack.
"They are killing themselves in attack and not playing with any fluency at all," he said.
"They just can't control the footy or complete a set of six when they need to."
Souths had a chance to hit back with 4:30 left in the half after Alex Johnston made a break down the left touchline with only the fullback to beat, but he threw a forward pass to his inside man and at halftime it was 8-0 to Penrith.
Originally published as Star's odd look mystifies NRL world