It’s fortunate that Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary is contracted through 2019, as the Panthers are reportedly stuck waiting for the salary cap to be clarified before they lock Cleary up for life.
According to SMH, the cap is all that stands between Cleary and a long-term deal, potentially “even beyond the five-year extension on the cards”.
“It’s difficult, because we still don’t know what the salary cap is for next year,” said Panthers boss Phil Gould, on his Six Tackles with Gus podcast. “So what the salary cap might look like in five years or ten years time is problematical.”
“I had lunch with Ivan Cleary and Nathan’s manager earlier in the season, just throwing up the point that even if we extended Nathan’s contract for five years, he’d still only be 24 years of age when he came off his contract, still not in his prime.”
“If another club to come and say, ‘do a Ben Hunt’ on the Panthers, and take away their halfback that they’d invested by that time 10 years of work into, it wouldn’t be fair on the club.”
“I think the club has got to protect itself with a player of this stature.”
“I think he is a player that can make the club over the next decade.”
The Panthers know all too well what it’s like to lose a franchise player as they enter their prime – they lost a 26-year-old Brad Fittler to the Roosters in 1996, and would then make the finals just twice between then and their premiership in 2003 (by which time they’d finally unearthed another franchise half, Craig Gower).
After struggling since Gower to find another marquee half, hopefully Cleary can become the face of the Panthers (and for that matter, the Blues), for a long, long time.
Cleary has played 34 first grade games for the Panthers, since making his debut as an 18-year-old last year.