Lang on League: It’s time to sign Nathan Cleary for life

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If Penrith want to stop other clubs from constantly poaching their best players and most promising juniors, it’s time to loosen the shackles when it comes to player retention and start offering both 10-year and five-year contracts to their best and most promising players.

I’m not going to go through the list of players the club has lost over the last four years, that’s been done to death and reported in the media ad nauseam.

Now there’s no way a club can keep every player it wants due to the salary cap but you can stem the bleeding by offering longer contracts.

Of the current squad the Panthers have done well to have marquee players like Nathan Cleary (2027), Dylan Edwards (2028), Isaah Yeo (2027), Izack Tago (2028) and Liam Martin (2027) tied up until at least 2027-28.

If it were me, I’d take it one-step further and sign Nathan Cleary to a 10-year contract and extend his current deal another six years until 2033 where he will turn 35 years-old.

Panthers captain Nathan Cleary. Photo: NRL Photos.

Now before you all freak-out about that age, remember Daly Cherry-Evans is currently 35-years-old and playing some of the best football of his career. Cherry-Evans still has another year left on his deal and the Sea Eagles are already in negotiations to extend his stay until the end of 2026 – he will be 37-years-old.

Now let me make something perfectly clear, I wouldn’t offer just anyone such a long contract at 26 years of age, but Cleary is a once-in-a-lifetime generational player who needs to finish his career as a Panther.

Sure, Cleary has had a wretched run with injuries in recent years but with sports science and the treatment of injuries getting better, an injury riddled career need not be in Cleary’s future.

Also, by signing players to longer contracts you can pay less per year and offer them better job security as a result.

Last year Panthers CEO Brian Fletcher spoke of signing both Ivan and Nathan Cleary to ‘lifetime contracts’. So, my idea is not as crazy as it first sounds.

Moving forward there are currently two Penrith players I would sign to 10-year deals. They are Liam Henry and Jack Cole.

Panthers youngster Jack Cole. Photo: NRL Photos.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that both players have an incredible future ahead of them and their current ages mean they will still be in their prime when the decade is up.

Henry is 22 and we all know that props don’t hit their prime until they are around 26 to 30-years-old. A 10-year deal would take Henry to 2034 where he would only be 32-years-old, and that’s hardly over the hill by any stretch of the imagination.

Meanwhile Cole, who is 20, would be a spritely 31-years-old and as a back, probably with another year-or-two of first grade football left in him.

As for five-year contracts, I wouldn’t hesitate in offering both Jesse McLean (19) and his younger brother Casey McLean (18) five-year deals right now. They have shown enough to suggest they are talented footballers with many years of first grade ahead of them.

Some of what I suggest may seem a little risky but with the players I’ve chosen, this risk is mitigated by the potential positive outcomes.

It’s worth a thought.

Peter Lang

Peter Lang is an experienced sports writer, who has been covering rugby league for several decades. He first wrote Lang on League for the Weekender in the 1990s, and worked for Panthers on its famous Panthers Magazine for several years.

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