As Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues halfback Nathan Cleary prepares to finally have his right shoulder surgically repaired in the coming days, the full of extent of that injury along with four other Penrith Panthers teammates can be revealed.
The Panthers won a gripping NRL Grand Final 14-12 over South Sydney at Suncorp Stadium but only afterwards did it become clear how gruelling a month of football it had been for Penrith – especially for Cleary.
The Panthers co-captain dislocated his shoulder when the Blues secured the Ampol State of Origin series with a convincing 26-0 win in Game Two at Suncorp Stadium. He missed Origin III and the next six weeks of club games.
"To do what he’s done, with one arm… I can’t even explain what he’s gone through and the fact that his one arm is just hanging off his body," Penrith’s 1991 premiership-winning halfback, current board member and NSW advisor Greg Alexander told Fox Sports.
"It’s just strapped together… the tendon was torn 80 per cent so it was just hanging. They tried cortisone (injections) to try and sort of shock it into some scar tissue, to strengthen it a little bit, but I don’t think much of it worked.
"He just strapped it up and got on with it."
In addition to Cleary’s injury, NSW winger Brian To’o (syndesmosis), shouldn’t have played. Then there was fullback Dylan Edwards (broken foot), props Moses Leota (torn calf) and James Fisher-Harris (bone bruising), who barely trained during the four-weeks finals period.
Cleary, for his part, told the post-Grand Final press conference that he only had a thought “for two minutes” after Origin II on June 27 that his season might be over.
“When I first found out, the physio called me pretty much straight away and said, ‘We’ll get you back’,” he said.
“They were always super positive and as soon as they said it, that’s the way it was going to be. I’m so grateful to them for all the work and time they put into me.”
He added that the pain each week hadn’t been over-bearing.
“It’s actually not been that bad when you compare it to some of the other guys in our team,” he said. “They are absolute warriors and are dealing with a lot worse stuff than what I have.”
Father and head coach Ivan Cleary told the media there were “at least five” players that should not have taken the field for the grand final – Leota, Fisher-Harris, Edwards, To’o and Nathan.
“It was a calculated risk on a lot of boys… I actually woke up at two o’clock (Sunday) morning and couldn’t get back to sleep,” Cleary said.
“I kept thinking, honestly, three or four of them could be gone by 10 minutes.”
To’o, who ran for 238 metres or the most of any of the 34 players on Sunday, will also undergo off-season surgery along with Fisher-Harris.
Cleary’s shoulder also had major rotator cuff damage as well as the tears in the supporting tendons and ligaments of the joint.
His True Blue halves partner, Jarome Luai, sent four kicks up for the Rabbitohs to chase but Cleary punted the ball 21 times for 649 metres – and he made 22 runs for 111 metres, had three tackle-breaks and made 17 tackles.
Cleary landed all three goals (two conversions, one penalty), and also forced five drop-outs while South Sydney were unable to find a repeat set.
In addition to the five players the coach named as “calculated risks”, Scott Sorenson was back on the field three weeks after surgery from a dislocated wrist in Round 25. Fellow forward Kurt Capewell was at least able to train for a few days in recent weeks despite suffering a broken finger.