Penrith Panthers superstar Nathan Cleary is the latest NRL player to be embroiled in a controversy surrounding social distancing rules.
The Nine Network has revealed images of Cleary surrounded by a group of women, understood to have been taken at his home on ANZAC Day.
The pictures suggest a clear breach of social distancing rules, in place due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Nine News reporter Danny Weidler said he has spoken to Cleary, who is apologetic about the incident.
“He’s explained to me that they are some of his friends. They popped into his place on ANZAC Day on their way to getting an Uber,” Weidler said.
— NRL on Nine (@NRLonNine) April 28, 2020
“He realised pretty quickly that this was not a situation that he should be in and after a short stay, they left.
“He is very, very apologetic about what has happened He knows he has done the wrong thing and he takes full responsibility for all of that.”
It appears the pictures were uploaded to an Instagram story.
The situation emerges just 24 hours after Souths star Latrell Mitchell and Melbourne winger Josh Addo-Carr were fined for breaching social distancing rules on a camping trip.
The issue is proving problematic for the NRL ahead of its planned restart on May 28.
Part of the NRL’s plan to start playing matches again surrounds strict following of government health regulations, and players following social distancing guidelines.
Former Panthers boss Phil Gould said there should be “blanket penalties” for players breaching social distancing guidelines.
“Granted Nathan says the incident was not planned, which obviously differs from the Josh/Latrell situation, however, players need to be vigilant,” Gould said.
What I do know is that the more instances made public, the less likely it will be that Govt will permit a restart of competition. The players were warned. They were given strict guidelines. They have caused a huge issue for the code. Huge ramifications for their future careers.
— PhilGould15 (@PhilGould15) April 28, 2020
“They need to protect themselves, their teammates, and the game.”
In a statement, the Panthers confirmed the NRL was investigating the matter.
“Penrith Panthers acknowledges the photos of Nathan Cleary being shared by the media in regards to social distancing regulations,” the statement said.
“The club was first made aware of the photos on Tuesday morning and immediately forwarded them to the NRL.
“The matter is now in the hands of the NRL and the club will be making no further comment at this time.”
Late this afternoon, the NRL confirmed it had issued Cleary with a breach notice including a $10,000 fine (60 per cent suspended for the remainder of the season) and a one match suspension (also suspended for the remainder of the season).
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor and Senior Writer. He has more than 15 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia’s leading media organisations.