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The NRL's head of football Graham Annesley has spoken out about a controversial Nathan Cleary conversion attempt that was taken much closer to the posts than it should have been.
Angry NRL fans accused Cleary of cheating when some noticed he'd taken a shot at goal from a very different position to what was allowed.
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After Brian To'o scored in the corner for Penrith's second try of their preliminary final victory over the Melbourne Storm, Cleary took the conversion attempt from well in from the sideline.
Cleary appeared to line up for the goal from about 10 metres in from the touchline, despite To'o putting the ball down right in the corner.
Inexplicably, the on-field and bunker officials all failed to spot the indiscretion.
“I’ve asked for an explanation as to how this could have possibly happened, but regardless of the reason it is simply unacceptable,” Annesley told the Sydney Morning Herald on Sunday.
“I can understand a split-second judgment error in general play, but this is a basic procedural matter that should never occur.
"Thankfully the kick missed so no advantage was gained, but we will further consider the implications of the error when we meet to review both games."
Annesley conceded the blunder could potentially cost referee Gerard Sutton a place in the grand final between Penrith and Souths.
Fans were left seething over Cleary's actions, with some accusing the Panthers halfback of deliberately cheating.
“This is a little in," Andrew Voss said in commentary for Fox Sports.
“To’o put the ball down a metre in from touch. I thought Nathan might have crept in a little closer with the shot.”
Veteran journalist Phil Rothfield responded to the furore on Twitter, writing: "This is outrageous".
Ridiculous, and happens on a weekly basis. Surprised it hasn't caused a major controversy yet tbh
— sincsincsinc (@sincsincsinc555) September 25, 2021
The fact that he missed the attempt doesn’t negate the fact that Cleary tried to cheat and the touch judge allowed it to happen. 2 weeks in a row touchies have allowed Penrith to bend the rules to suit themselves. Maybe Bennett was right, Ivan still has friends in the refs
— OldDaveEEL (@eel_old) September 25, 2021
Nathan Cleary cleared over dangerous tackle
Meanwhile, Cleary is free to play in the NRL grand final after he escaped charge for a dangerous throw on Kenny Bromwich.
Cleary was put on report in the Panthers' 10-6 win and faced the prospect of being banned for the decider if he copped a grade-two charge.
However, Penrith's worst fears were alleviated on Sunday morning with Cleary not even appearing on the charge sheet.
Cleary and his father Ivan played down the severity of his lifting tackle on Saturday night.
"There's always a bit of stuff around that ... it's just another story I guess," Nathan Cleary said about his report.
"I'd rather not (face the judiciary) but we'll see."
Cleary's availability is crucial to the Panthers. He has won 19 of 20 games at all levels this year while he and Jarome Luai have a 40-3 record together in the halves.
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