Details behind Nathan Cleary’s mega-deal with Penrith Panthers

Nathan is the centrepiece of a jigsaw puzzle that is becoming increasingly difficult for the premiers to piece together.

In Nathan, the brains of the operation have been secured until 2027. The engine room is also taken care of with prop James Fisher-Harris tied down until the end of 2026, while lock Isaah Yeo is there until the end of 2024.

Nathan Cleary will call Penrith home until at least the age of 30.Credit:SMH

Nathan’s partner in crime, Jarome Luai, is on board for another two more years, so too fellow spine player Dylan Edwards.

They will lose Viliame Kikau and Api Koroisau at the end of the season, which is on top of having already parted company with superstar Matt Burton, who joined the Bulldogs at the end of last season. However, for every Matt Burton, there’s an Izack Tago or a Taylan May waiting to take his place.

The conundrum Penrith are constantly dealing with is highlighted by the predicament the club must tackle in the coming months.

Stephen Crichton: free agent on November 1. Brian To’o: free agent on November 1. The same goes for Liam Martin and Tago.

The Panthers work off a theory that the value of their starting 13 should equate to a certain percentage of the salary cap. When they won last year’s premiership, the club managed to strike the right balance according to the algorithm they work off.

Their best 10 players this year take up around 65 per cent of the cap, according to the Herald’s market research.

The Panthers also work on the premise that they can only have one highly paid player in each position.

  • Edwards at fullback is a steal at about $500,000, but every good roster has at least one player who continually plays above his pay packet.
  • To’o (believed to be on a deal worth about $400,000) is now in the top two wingers in the game, and his manager will rightfully come knocking for more when the time is right.
  • Crichton is on the big dollars as the No.1 centre at the club, but the emergence of Tago will likely have ramifications when the pair (both managed by the same company) sit down at the negotiation table.
  • Cleary and Luai take up almost $2 million between them in the halves.
  • Fisher-Harris is the top dog and one of the highest-paid props in the NRL.
  • Liam Martin will be elevated to the premier back-rower at the club once Kikau departs to Canterbury.
  • Then there’s Yeo, the glue of the team who mounts a strong case as the most improved player in the game over the past two years.

The advantage Penrith have over most other teams is that when players’ values skyrocket, they have talented juniors on bargain-basement deals ready to fill the void. Nathan was once one of them.

“It’s pretty unbelievable. It’s hard to put in words,” he said at the press conference to announce the deals on Wednesday.


“I came over here as a 14-year-old kid. I kind of lived in different places growing up following dad around, then came out to Penrith. It’s home for me now. It’s an unbelievable place. It’s an unbelievable club.

“To be able to sign longer here means everything to me and my family. To play with guys I grew up with, who have become my best mates, it’s pretty special. It’s something I’m very grateful for. I’m absolutely blessed to be at this club and I couldn’t picture myself anywhere else.

“At the end of the day, I’m getting paid to do something I love. I look back to when I was a kid, all I ever wanted to do was to play NRL. Penrith made that possible for me. Getting paid to do this is amazing.”

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