Cleary makes case for Eels rematch in GF

·2-min read

Nathan Cleary says he would not be surprised if Penrith faced Parramatta again in the NRL grand final after putting a spell on the Eels with his bombs on Friday night.

Cleary's finals-opening performance was arguably the best of his season , with Parramatta coach Brad Arthur conceding the Penrith half had kicked his team "to death".

Eels winger Waqa Blake felt the most pain, dropping three of Cleary's floating bombs with two errors leading to Penrith tries.

Off the back of a five-week ban, Cleary's clinic served as a serious warning shot to the rest of the competition with Penrith well on track to defend their title.

And if the Panthers do qualify for a third straight grand final, Cleary could easily see Parramatta as their opponents on October 2.

"I think there's definitely a chance," Cleary said.

"You look at the last three weeks before this and how well they were playing.

"They were playing well (on Friday night) too. So I think there's a big chance.

"The finals series this year is so wide open. Anything can happen, so it wouldn't surprise me (if Parramatta recovered to make the grand final)."

If that was to be the case, Parramatta would follow the same path Penrith took last year after losing to South Sydney in the qualifying final.

The Eels have also beaten Penrith twice already this season, with Friday night's result marking their first loss to the Panthers in 2022.

But it would also take some recovery to beat Penrith again if they did meet in the decider, after Cleary's masterclass.

The Panthers No.7 admitted he felt a sorry for his former Panthers teammate after fulltime, with Arthur also desperate to point out the loss was not on Blake.

"Not at the time (I didn't feel bad) but a little bit after," Cleary said.

"But Waqa is a great player and I know he will bounce back next week.

"Once we got one result I thought it was pretty good place to keep going back to.

"It's just a bit of a feel thing and a bit of experience as well. In the past I've had a few games where I just try and (put up a floating bomb) every kick.

"You've just got to pick your times. It's just the feel of the game and where we are and the position we were getting in."

Penrith meanwhile are now far better placed than they were at this time last season, with their only concern out of Friday's win being Taylan May hurting his hamstring and facing a ban for a high tackle.

Otherwise, the majority of Penrith's players will enter the preliminary final off the back of having to play just one game in 28 days as they push to go back-to-back.