Penrith Panthers superstar Nathan Cleary to miss first three rounds of the season

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Penrith superstar Nathan Cleary to miss first three rounds as return from shoulder reconstruction doesn’t go to plan

  • The 2022 NRL season kicks off on Thursday night at Bluebet Stadium at 8.05pm
  • Blockbuster first game sees premiers Penrith host Manly in Sydney’s west
  • Superstar Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary is expected to miss the showdown
  • Cleary, 24, had a shoulder reconstruction in the off-season, will be eased back

Penrith Panthers star halfback Nathan Cleary will miss the highly anticipated NRL season opener on Thursday night against the Manly Sea Eagles at Bluebet Stadium.

The Clive Churchill medallist from last year’s grand final had a shoulder reconstruction in the off-season and the premiers have opted for a cautious approach when it comes to their gun playmaker.

Cleary, 24, was due to line up against Manly skipper Daly-Cherry Evans in a mouth-watering personal clash, but it is believed he will now return in round four in the grand final replay versus the South Sydney Rabbitohs on April 1.

Sean O’Sullivan is looming as the replacement number seven for Penrith over the first few rounds.

‘With a long and challenging season ahead of us, it’s critical that we give Nathan the time he needs to return at his physical best,’ Panthers coach Ivan Cleary said.

‘While it’s obviously a difficult decision and of course we would have loved to have him out there, we believe this will ensure Nathan has the best opportunity to play throughout the year at the level he demands of himself.’ 

Penrith Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary is likely to miss the highly anticipated NRL season opener on Thursday night against the Manly Sea Eagles at Bluebet Stadium after his return from shoulder surgery didn't go as hoped

Penrith Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary is likely to miss the highly anticipated NRL season opener on Thursday night against the Manly Sea Eagles at Bluebet Stadium after his return from shoulder surgery didn’t go as hoped

Cleary's absence will see footy fans denied the opportunity to see the Panthers halfback line up against Manly number seven Daly Cherry-Evans (pictured)

Cleary’s absence will see footy fans denied the opportunity to see the Panthers halfback line up against Manly number seven Daly Cherry-Evans (pictured) 

Penrith will be hard to beat this year despite losing stars like Matt Burton (pictured, victorious father and son combination Nathan and coach Ivan Cleary after the 2021 grand final)

Penrith will be hard to beat this year despite losing stars like Matt Burton (pictured, victorious father and son combination Nathan and coach Ivan Cleary after the 2021 grand final)

Cleary’s side face an uphill battle to go back to back, with a host of players leaving the foot of the mountains after tasting premiership glory last October.

Classy centres Paul Momirovski (Sydney Roosters) and Matt Burton (Canterbury) will be hard to replace, with backrower Kurt Capewell (Brisbane) and utility Tyrone May (Catalans Dragons) also moving on.

Brent Naden, Penrith’s 18th man in the grand final, has joined Burton at the Bulldogs.

One player set to benefit from the host of departures is winger Charlie Staines.

While delighted to see his teammates snare premiership rings, he admitted it was tough to watch from the sidelines.

‘Missing out on those big games has provided heaps of motivation for me this year,’ Staines told NRL.com.

‘I was itching to get out there with the boys in the semis and the grand final, that’s driven me to be consistently better.’ 

Manly will start at underdogs on Thursday night, but any team will brilliant fullback Tom Trbojevic on their team sheet has reason to feel quietly confident.

The Dally M Medallist was unstoppable at times in 2021, and if he is the player the home side will need to contain.

Coverage is live on Channel 9 and Fox Sports, with kick-off 8.05pm. 

Quick stat: Penrith got the better of Manly in both their games last season.  

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