Nathan Cleary and Mary Fowler are facing the challenge of maintaining their relationship as Fowler heads back to England to join Manchester City. However, Cleary may have already provided some insight into their situation with a revealing statement. The couple made their relationship public on Wednesday through a series of stunning photos captured exclusively by Daily Mail Australia. Speculation about their romance began in August when they were spotted together along Sydney’s Nepean River, enjoying an ice cream. At that time, Cleary mentioned the Matildas, indicating his willingness to switch careers and potentially join Fowler in the UK.
Rugby Australia was pushing for NRL stars to switch codes, with the recent signing of Joseph-Aukuso Suaalii by the Roosters. When asked about making the switch himself, Cleary acknowledged the global stage and reach of rugby union. He compared it to the achievements of the Matildas, acknowledging that such accomplishments are not as easily attainable in rugby league. Cleary expressed excitement about the prospect of representing Australia in rugby union, highlighting that the sport has been somewhat neglected in the country for a while.
While Rugby Australia would prefer Cleary to play for an Australian Super Rugby team if he were to switch codes, there would undoubtedly be significant interest from UK clubs if he became available. Unlike most NRL players who have made the switch, Cleary, a highly skilled halfback, has the potential to excel in the Gallagher Premiership, the top union competition in the UK. Joining an English club would not only bring him closer to Fowler but also offer significant financial opportunities. Players like Charles Piutau and Semi Radradra are among the highest earners in the competition, with Piutau making $1.9 million per season and Radradra earning just over $1 million annually.
Cleary would not be the first high-profile rugby league player to switch to rugby union in pursuit of international success. Former South Sydney star Sam Burgess made headlines when he played for Bath in England’s top-flight competition in a bid to represent his country in the 2015 World Cup. The Wallabies have struggled in the halves position for some time, as evident in their disappointing performance in the recent World Cup in France. With Australia set to host the 2027 World Cup, Rugby Australia would undoubtedly be eager to secure a player of Cleary’s caliber to strengthen their team.
Although Cleary is currently contracted with the Penrith Panthers until the end of 2027, NRL contracts have proven to be flexible if players are willing to make financial sacrifices. At just 25 years old, Cleary has already achieved numerous successes in the NRL, winning three consecutive premierships and representing both New South Wales and Australia.
The situation Cleary and Fowler face is reminiscent of a famous intercontinental romance in the rugby league world during the 1990s. Solomon Haumono, a league player, made headlines when he walked away from the sport to be with UK model Gabrielle Richens. Haumono secretly traveled to the UK without informing his family or club, only to return to Sydney and play for Balmain the following year. While Cleary may not follow the same path, a move to England would offer him the chance to establish himself as a cross-code great while building a life with Fowler.