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NRL heartthrob Nathan Cleary reveals his struggle dealing with criticism and judgement

NRL heartthrob Nathan Cleary has opened up about his struggles to deal with criticism and judgement. 

The 22-year-old Penrith Panthers star, who was criticised for breaking lockdown rules to throw a TikTok party with young women earlier this year, said his battle was so intense he was forced to undergo a mental overhaul. 

‘It’s something I’ve really worked hard on this past year. And something that’s having a big impact on where I’m at,’ he told The Daily Telegraph.  








NRL star Nathan Cleary (pictured) has opened up about his struggles with criticism

NRL star Nathan Cleary (pictured) has opened up about his struggles with criticism

The halfback said years of struggling with judgement from fans and the media had affected his performance on the field.  

‘That fear, it affects you as a person, affects your ability to play. It paralyses you,’ he explained. 

Cleary’s anxiety first kicked in when the Penrith number 7 was selected to represent New South Wales at the State of Origin in 2018.  

The 22-year-old said he hadn’t encountered much criticism early in his career and had a hard time dealing with disappointment from fans over his performance.    

Fans continued to slam the halfback’s playing in 2019 and Cleary said reading the comments on social media ‘wasn’t healthy’. 

Cleary tried to ignore the criticism but it caused him to have major anxiety before playing a game.   

‘There were even times in games where it would be in my mind too, I’d make a mistake and start worrying about what people would be thinking,’ he explained. 

Cleary (pictured during a Penrith Panthers game) said the anxiety over criticism from fans began when he represented New South Wales in the State of Origin in 2018

Cleary (pictured during a Penrith Panthers game) said the anxiety over criticism from fans began when he represented New South Wales in the State of Origin in 2018 

The 22-year-old (pictured) said his fears were so extreme they affected his performance on the field. Cleary later began practicing mindfulness to overcome his anxiety

The 22-year-old (pictured) said his fears were so extreme they affected his performance on the field. Cleary later began practicing mindfulness to overcome his anxiety 

The halfback said his biggest fear was disappointing everyday fans, rather than teammates or analysts, because he wanted to ‘please people’. 

Cleary eventually approached the head of performance for the Panthers, Hayden Knowles, and sought help in making changes to his mindset.   

Knowles devoted the last summer to reforming the 22-year-old, adding 5kg to his frame, raising his power clean to 130kg and improving his mindset. 

Cleary studied books and papers on mindfulness and even enrolled in an online course directed by former Super Bowl Winner and NFL coach Pete Carroll.     

Cleary was slammed over a TikTok scandal in April that saw him mingling with a group of women on Anzac Day (pictured above) while New South Wales was in Stage Three lockdown

Cleary was slammed over a TikTok scandal in April that saw him mingling with a group of women on Anzac Day (pictured above) while New South Wales was in Stage Three lockdown 

The halfback said it taught him to live with purpose and only listen to the people who matter to him.   

Cleary said it helped him overcome a the lockdown scandal in April which saw him fined and suspended from playing for two games. 

The player was slammed for ignoring social distancing rules on Anzac Day and was recorded mingling with at least five women during strict Stage Three lockdown. 

The 22-year-old said he was disappointed in himself but had developed the skills to move on.   

The Panthers player said he was disappointed in himself over the scandal but that mindfulness had provided him with the tools to move on (Cleary pictured TikTok dancing with women)

The Panthers player said he was disappointed in himself over the scandal but that mindfulness had provided him with the tools to move on (Cleary pictured TikTok dancing with women) 

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