In the Cleary: NRL go soft on Panther's COVID cover-up
Star Penrith halfback Nathan Cleary is set to avoid a match suspension for his social distancing slip-up.
The likes of Phil Gould have called for Cleary to be banned for the entire season but The Daily Telegraph understands the NRL is instead likely to increase the 22-year-old's fine and give him another suspended match ban.
If that is the case, Cleary will be free to play when the NRL returns later this month.
It is understood a suitable punishment is still being debated at the highest levels but a decision is expected to be made today.
The NRL is taking the matter seriously but in Cleary's favour is the remorse he has shown for his actions and the fact he has a clean record.
The feeling is that his attempted cover-up was far worse than being caught dancing with young women at his home in a video that was posted on social media.
The monetary fine would not cause Cleary too much pain because he is one of the NRL's highest-paid players, but any match ban would be a huge blow to Penrith.
Compared to past indiscretions from NRL players, Cleary's behaviour hardly rates among the worst offences.
But given the current climate, and the fact Cleary withheld information from the NRL after an initial photo was discovered, his cleanskin image has taken a battering.
There has also been concern for Cleary's wellbeing given he is said to have been hit hard by the fallout from his actions.
Cleary has been a wonderful poster boy for the game since he made his NRL debut four years ago and his actions on and off the field have been exemplary until now.
He was initially fined $10,000 (60 per cent was suspended) and received a suspended one-game ban for his actions.
Cleary was then issued with an amended breach notice when a TikTok video emerged of him dancing with the girls, which he had failed to mention when the NRL first interviewed him.
If cleared to play it will be a huge boost for the Panthers given his sensational form in the opening two rounds.
There is huge pressure on Cleary to be the chief playmaker now that James Maloney has left to play in France and he is being coached by his father Ivan, who underperformed last year.
However, judging by Penrith's form in the opening rounds they will be one of the team's to beat this year if Cleary stays fit and suspension free.
Gould has called for all the players who breached social distancing laws to be banned.
After the emergence of the TikTok videos, Gould wrote on Twitter: "If Nathan Cleary has lied about his involvement, (a) That's obscenely stupid, (b) It's worse than the original breach, (c) He will have to live with consequence of his actions. NRL will definitely reconsider the penalty imposed, which I considered to be too light in first place."
Originally published as In the Cleary: NRL go soft on Panther's COVID cover-up