Days after the NRL was slammed for allowing Taylan May to play finals, the Penrith Panthers star appears likely to spend a week on the sidelines after being booked in the club's qualifying final win.
May was controversially allowed to play in the Panthers' clash with the Parramatta Eels after the NRL decided to defer a two-match ban imposed after the 21-year-old was found guilty of assault to next season.
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May had pleaded not guilty to an assault charge stemming from an incident at a venue in the days after Penrith's grand final victory in 2021, with the court case only coming to an end as the home and away season ended.
Though the Panthers claimed an impressive 27-8 victory to book their place in the preliminary finals, it could come at the cost of May after he was sin-binned and reported for a high shot on Parramatta's Will Penisini.
It means the Panthers rookie will miss Penrith's preliminary final if he takes an early guilty plea and only return for the grand final if the defending premiers make it.
If the 21-year-old fights the charge at the NRL judiciary and loses he will also be out of the grand final the following week.
May was already battling a hamstring injury out of Friday night's win and would have been in doubt for the preliminary final anyway.
The irony of the situation wasn't lost on NRL fans, given May's original suspension had been deferred until next season because the league considered finals games to be 'worth more' than regular season fixtures.
The league claimed it was the only fair option given the timing of the offence in relation to the guilty verdict.
However it still had several clubs across the league raising their eyebrows, as well as the likes of Issac Luke who missed a grand final through suspension in 2014.
Taylan May with a high tackle but he'll be sin binned first game of next season. #NRLPanthersEels
— Lachlan McKirdy (@LMcKirdy7) September 9, 2022
So if Taylan May gets suspended for that hit does he serve the ban next week or next year? #NRLPanthersEels
— Adrian Arciuli (@Adrian_Arciuli) September 9, 2022
Well Taylan May may miss an extra game next year
Or will he be suspended next weekend ??? 🤣#NRLPanthersEels
— Bernie Coen (@berniecoen) September 9, 2022
Panthers coach Ivan Cleary argued during the week some would suggest May should never have been suspended at all and did not understand the controversy around the ban being deferred.
But he had no issue with May being sin-binned on Friday night, and also thought it would be a tough ask for him to recover from the hamstring injury in the next fortnight anyway.
"When you've got to come off for a hammy it's not a great sign," Cleary said post-match.
"He's had a fair bit on his plate, so that's going to be a hard one to come back from."
Panthers roll over Eels thanks to stunning Nathan Cleary return
Cleary was the star in the Panthers' 27-8 qualifying-final win on Friday, going on a blitz during a 10-minute period in the second half as Penrith went from one point down to 17 points up.
The 24-year-old three times forced errors from former teammate Waqa Blake with his bombs, with two leading to tries and putting the Panthers on the front foot.
He also did it all on return from a five-week suspension, showing no signs of rust as he took full control of Penrith's attack and sent the Eels to another knockout semi-final.
"Nathan kicked us to death really," Arthur admitted.
Penrith, for now, are the least of Parramatta's concerns as the Eels try to avoid being knocked out in the second week of the finals for the fifth time in six years.
But, ultimately, any team who wants to win this competition knows Cleary is likely to be a problem for them.
The Panthers are straight through to the preliminary final, and look as dangerous as any defending premiers possibly could be at this time of the season.
Only the report of May took the shine off the victory.
But otherwise, the Panthers will enter their preliminary final off the back of a fortnight's rest and, for most players, with just one game in the 28 days prior.
And beyond all else, they have the benefit of an in-form Cleary at halfback.
"He's your star player, your halfback. When he's out there you can feel the confidence grow," co-captain Isaah Yeo said.
"His kicking game was outstanding. He knew when to run.
"You could see it happening at training but then, obviously, to come out on the big stage, he was always going to have that pressure on him.
"But he was the best player on the park by a mile tonight."
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