Panthers superstar Nathan Cleary has been called out for saying he “felt sorry” for teammate Taylan May after he was found guilty of assault.
May is controversially allowed to play in the finals despite receiving a two-game suspension from the NRL after being found guilty of assault occasioning bodily harm in a Queensland court last Wednesday.
The 21-year-old was involved in an incident at a pub on the Sunshine Coast last October following Penrith’s grand final triumph.
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CCTV footage played in court showed May walk up behind a man – who was talking to his brother Tyrone May and Cleary – then grab him by the collar and pull him to the ground.
The man struck his head on the floor during the altercation and suffered a sprained neck. May pleaded not guilty to the charge of assault occasioning bodily harm.
May’s behaviour was sprayed by the magistrate “reprehensible” and “cowardly” and ordered him to pay $1000 in compensation to the victim and a $1000 fine.
The NRL handed down its punishment on Tuesday, giving May a two-game ban to be served next season and a $7500 fine that was 50 per cent suspended.
The decision to delay his suspension was widely ridiculed but Cleary went into bat for his teammate on Wednesday.
“It’s great (that he’s playing), you want your best players on the park and he’s been massive for us this year,” Cleary said.
“For sure (he’s learned a lesson) and everyone can take lessons out of it, even people that weren’t a part of it. It’s the spotlight we live in these days, rugby league is a 24-7 job, it’s not just when we’re coming here or training or on the field. It’s when we’re with the outside world and everywhere.
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“I felt sorry for him going through it all, you obviously feel for your mate that has to go through stuff like that and the scrutiny around it, as we kind of touched on there’s lessons to be learned and I’ll always respect Taylan.”
Cleary also defended the character of May and said people were quick to make assumptions about others.
“He’s a great kid and if you know him personally you’ll know that too,” Cleary said.
“One thing a lot of people like to do is judge people just from what they see without actually knowing people, but I think the people close to him know what he’s really like and we’ll always stick by him because we know what he’s like as a person.
But those comments were called out by NRL 360 host Paul Kent on Wednesday night.
“I respect Nathan Cleary defending his teammate, that’s what you do, but I don’t agree with it,” Kent said.
“To say he felt sorry for him. Taylan May is just sitting there with nothing to do there, he’s not even part of it.
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“The guy has his back to him, he talking to Nathan Cleary, and feels compelled to walk up, grab him by the collar and throw him to the ground.
“In court he tried to argue he was provoked, he pleaded not guilty, he hasn’t shown any remorse for it. He hasn’t come out and apologises. Everyone is feeling sorry for this kid, it’s the old good bloke rule.
“Well maybe the 18-year-old kid that got thrown to the ground is a good kid too but there’s not a lot of sympathy for him. As usual it’s all one way.”
Panthers star Jarome Luai echoed the sentiment and was pumped to have May playing in their qualifying final against the Eels on Friday night.
“I’m really happy to play alongside him. Everyone has (learned a lesson), we have to watch what we do out there in the public,” he said.
But veteran rugby league reporter Phil Rothfield was left filthy with the punishment from the NRL.
“They got it right with a two-week ban, what they got wrong and is horribly unfair to Penrith’s 15 rivals is that they’ve put the suspension off until the new year,” he said.
“Not only can he play finals, he can go to the World Cup and play for his nation. I think it’s appalling. Payne Haas and Albert Kelly got a week each for stupidity earlier this year, they had a big game that weekend.”
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