The Chronicle



PENRITH’S title defence has suffered a blow with champion halfback Nathan Cleary facing up to six months on the sidelines and likely to miss the 2022 premiershi­p opener.

The Clive Churchill medallist is booked in for a shoulder reconstruc­tion this week and faces the same length recovery that grounded Cowboys legend Johnathan Thurston and Newcastle’s Queensland Origin ace Kalyn Ponga.

Cleary has shown amazing toughness, overcoming a twin shoulder dislocatio­n and labral tear, first suffered in Origin II on June 27, to lead the Panthers to their gutsy 14-12 grand final win over Souths on Sunday night.

But Penrith’s breakthrou­gh title under Ivan Cleary will come at a cost, with the coach’s classy playmaking son almost certain to miss the start of its premiershi­p defence in a blow to the quest for back-toback crowns.

The best-case scenario would see Cleary return in four months, wiping out his pre-season and leaving him underdone for Penrith’s round 1 clash next year.

At worst, he could face the same exhaustive rehabilita­tion road as his Maroons Origin rival Ponga, who was sidelined for six months and returned in round 5 this year.

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