Crichton injury can't stop Panthers' run

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Penrith have questioned how Dale Fincuane escaped punishment after leaving Stephen Crichton with a mangled left ear and needing a date with a plastic surgeon following the Panthers' 20-10 win over Cronulla.

In a dramatic ending to Penrith's win, Crichton was hit high by Finucane after a sickening head clash when the Cronulla lock rushed out of the line.

The NSW State of Origin centre went straight to ground and later admitted he remembered little of the game, as his ear later resembled that of Evander Holyfield's.

He was later sent to hospital after Penrith doctor Scott Reid temporarily put it back together.

"I'm sure the last thing Dale Finucane wanted to do was injure Critta," Cleary said.

"Historically head clashes have been a head clash.

"But I just think how easy it is to give a high-tackle penalty away now, contact with the head. It just looked bad.

"Critta is not in a great way. There is certainly an argument for careless. But that is currently the game and interpretations."

The Sharks were adamant the incident was nothing more than a head clash, however he could still be charged if the contact is considered careless and dangerous.

"I thought we would at least get a penalty," Cleary said.

"I'm not exactly sure of interpretations (around sin-bins or send-offs), but it is clearly contact with the head.

"It knocks him out.

"That was like a car crash. It's weird that that is okay, but the mildest of taps sometimes isn't okay."

The incident overshadowed what was a gutsy performance from the Sharks, where they lost no admirers in their push for a top-four finish.

Penrith had five times as many play-the-balls in the attacking red-zone as Cronulla, but the Sharks managed to hold them to just three tries.

With seven Blues players returning from a full week off training, Penrith meanwhile showed signs of sluggishness early.

Connor Tracey had the Sharks' first when he spun through four defenders, while it was 10-0 after 13 minutes when Matt Moylan crossed.

At that point Penrith had just 36 per cent of the ball and spent most of the game at their own end.

But then the defending premiers kicked into gear and Cronulla offered up too much good ball.

Fresh off a mid-season holiday spent in Bali and Melbourne, Nathan Cleary was immense as he kicked brilliantly and controlled the tempo of the game.

Halves partner Jarome Luai was also excellent, involved in all three of Penrith's tries.

He first combined with Apisai Koroisau for the Panthers' opener, after the hooker gave him space to put Izack Tago over.

The five-eighth was also involved in the next, as he Viliame Kikau and Tago put Taylan May into space and the winger found Dylan Edwards in support.

Luai then sealed the match late, jinking and stepping his way over the line.

It ensured Penrith went 10 points clear at the top of the NRL ladder, meaning they could realistically wrap up the minor premiership in the next fortnight.

"The guys are disappointed because we feel like we have more to offer than that," Sharks coach Craig Fitzgibbon said.

"There is a lot of confidence you take out of it, confidence to get in the arm-wrestle.

"But we knew that to get something out of tonight we had to execute so I am disappointed about that."

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