NRL Grand Final 2023: Nathan Cleary to rugby union, calls for Rugby Australia to recruit Panthers star to play for Wallabies

Rugby Australia have been urged to throw everything including the kitchen sink at Nathan Cleary in a bid to resurrect the Wallabies in time for a home 2027 World Cup.

Cleary is the toast of the Australian footy landscape after he almost single-handedly led the Panthers to a miracle 26-24 comeback win over the Broncos in the NRL Grand Final.

The halfback helped set up two tries and scored the matchwinning four-pointer to secure the first premiership three-peat in 40 years.

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He is only 25 years old but with three premierships in a row and two Clive Churchill medals, there are already calls for Cleary to be named a rugby league Immortal soon after he retires.

On the other side of the world, the Wallabies will be knocked out of a Rugby World Cup before the quarterfinals for the first time if Fiji beat Portugal this weekend.

With Eddie Jones boldly opting to regenerate the national team during a World Cup, the Wallabies are crying out for a gun playmaker at No. 10 after moving on from the likes of Quade Cooper and Bernard Foley.

Cleary’s matchwinning performance had rugby union pundits calling for Rugby Australia to do whatever it takes to get him to switch to the 15-man game.

Rugby journalist Christy Doran posted on X: “Rugby Australia throw $$ at Nathan Cleary immediately. Three peat for Penrith. Unbelievable. What a player. 40-22 turned it.

“Extraordinary playmaker. Imagine him leading the Wallabies at the 2027 Rugby World Cup?!”

Former Wallaby Peter FitzSimons had a similar view, posting: “Never in doubt. Fabulous match. Great comeback by Penrith. If we Wallabies are going to raid NRL, Cleary and Walsh should be the first targets!”

For what it’s worth, Cleary is contracted with the Panthers until the end of 2027 on a front-ended deal that currently sees him earn around $1.3 million per season.

NRL stars Lote Tuqiri, Mat Rogers and Wendell Sailor switched codes to play for the Wallabies on home soil at the 2003 Rugby World Cup, and Cleary will be turning 30 by the time the 2027 World Cup rolls round.

Cleary himself has spoken about the prospect of switching to union in the future, saying the opportunity to represent his country on the global stage is appealing, but he would have to be “100 per cent all in”.

“I think that’s the exciting part of union, it is on that global stage, Cleary told the Sporting News/YKTY Ebbs and Flows podcast in August.

“If you were to do it for Australia, it would be such a big thing because Australia has sort of neglected union for a while now and it hasn’t been a massive thing.

“I think that part of it is an exciting prospect, but league is all I have known and loved and it has been a passion for me.

“I couldn’t see myself doing it, but there is a little part of me that thinks it would be cool to try it out.”

“If I was to try it, I would 100 per cent have to be all-in, I wouldn’t just be doing it for the thought of having success or wanting that global status,” he said.

“It would be such a process thing. It would take a lot of hard work, like I’d just have to know the game inside-out before I even felt confident pulling on an Australian jersey.

“I wouldn’t just want it because of what I’ve done in league.”

“I still feel like there’s still so much more for me to do in rugby league… it’s just a journey and I feel like I’m honestly just getting started,” he said. “You can have all the achievements along the way, but you know within yourself what you can get out of your talent and what you’ve put in.”

Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan hasn’t been afraid to try and poach NRL talent, with Roosters youngster Joseph Suaalii set to switch to rugby union in 2025.

Another Rooster, Angus Crichton, has been linked to Super Rugby’s Western Force, according to The Roar that offer has now been withdrawn because of concerns about the perception of two-year $1.6 million offer.

“Nathan Cleary wasn’t on the original list as we thought he’d be untouchable, but he said he’d be open to a switch,” McLennan told The Australian earlier this year.

“I’d forgotten he’d spent time growing up in New Zealand, so he appreciates the game and gets it. Imagine him running out in front of 85,000 people wearing Wallaby gold at Stade de France. Mind-blowing.”

Other players on McLennan’s NRL wish list include, Cameron Murray, Payne Haas and Will Penisini.

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