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Penrith star Nathan Cleary faces a nervous wait to be cleared to play in the NRL grand final after being placed on report for a lifting tackle in the 10-6 preliminary final win over the Melbourne Storm on Saturday afternoon.
The Panthers booked their spot in Sunday week's decider against South Sydney after a brutal battle against the minor premiers at Suncorp Stadium.
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However, the Panthers will be sweating on Cleary's availability after the halfback's lifting tackle on the Storm’s Kenny Bromwich was placed on report.
Cleary was deemed to be at fault in the tackle alongside teammate Paul Momirovski, with the back of Bromwich's head hitting the turf as the Penrith pair drove him into the ground.
“That is a dangerous tackle, this is drama, this is Cleary,” Andrew Voss said in commentary for Fox League.
“A dangerous tackle has up-ended Kenny Bromwich. That is one absolutely on report and one for the match review committee.
“Mark it down 21st minute. This is a controversial moment in the game.”
However, fellow Fox Sports commentator Michael Ennis said he didn't think there was much in it, insisting it was not bad enough to wipe Cleary out of the NRL decider.
"You can’t miss a grand final for that," Ennis said.
The incident proved particularly divisive for fans on social media, with many agreeing with Ennis' view that it did not warrant a grand final suspension.
Others cited a similar incident involving South Sydney's Isaac Luke in 2014 - that rubbed the hooker out of that year's grand final against Canterbury - as proof that Cleary deserved a ban.
That tackle from Cleary is the same tackle Isaac Luke missed a GF for #NRLStormPanthers
— Brig (@Brig1965) September 25, 2021
Cleary on report for a tackle that shouldn’t have even been a penalty https://t.co/XGEfNNhtVy
— Michael Chammas (@MichaelChammas) September 25, 2021
Gerard Sutton’s refereeing of this game is disgraceful! What has been a penalty or set restart every other day has gone missing in this game. Cleary should have been binned for similar tackle to Keppie last night… or was it Klein who got it wrong? Inconsistency prevails…
— Andrew Radford (@Raddy808) September 25, 2021
If Penrith win this and Cleary misses the gf for that tackle I give up. #NRLStormPanthers
— BRAD (@bradfogarty101) September 25, 2021
Oh shit Cleary on report! 😳😳😳😳 lol That tackle looked ok on replay.
— Baybay (Kiuga) (@EatDaMulz274) September 25, 2021
Just remember, Isaac Luke @SSFCRABBITOHS was suspended and missed the 2014 grand final for a lifting tackle vs Roosters, that was half as bad as that by Nathan Cleary. He has to face suspension. Manly player given 3 weeks for same in last nights match.
— Mark Berg (@shirerabbit31) September 25, 2021
Cleary hand between the legs tackle. Oh no! 😱 #nrlstormpanthers
— Spartan74 (@Rich_Spiteri) September 25, 2021
Penrith 6, Storm 0 after 30 mins. If judiciary does it's job, Cleary will get 2 weeks for dangerous tackle.#nrlstormpanthers
— 💦Laird Mick W Beattie (@mickdundee48) September 25, 2021
Panthers' coach Ivan Cleary had another halves concern moments later when Jerome Luai left the field after copping a stray Cameron Munster arm to the back of his head following a linebreak.
The Panthers were livid when Munster escaped unpenalised as a groggy Luai left the field, but the Penrith five-eighth returned after the halftime break to play out the game.
Penrith exact 2020 grand final revenge
Tipped to be under the cosh against well-rested defending champions and minor premiers Melbourne, the battle-hardened Panthers' flipped the script from the outset as they exacted revenge for last year's grand final defeat.
A heads-up kick from dummy half by Cleary found an unmarked Stephen Crichton out wide to score untouched in the second minute and leave the Storm rattled.
Shortly after that Storm prop Christian Welch left the field following an earlier collision with Matt Burton, the Queensland State of Origin star subsequently being ruled out of the game after failing his HIA.
Melbourne were down to just two players on the interchange bench by mid-point of the half when Brandon Smith also came off with a HIA as well as a shoulder issue.
The hooker was also subsequently ruled out by medical staff, putting huge pressure on the Storm's remaining 15 players.
The Panthers clearly came with a plan and rattled Melbourne with stirring defence as the Storm finished with a plethora of uncharacteristic errors.
Some of those were especially costly with George Jennings and Reimis Smith both dropping the ball as the Storm threatened the tryline.
Some sensational Panthers' defence also kept the Storm out in the opening half with Crichton and Burton pulling off separate try-saving efforts to deny Justin Olam and Jahrome Hughes.
Penrith made the most of another error at the start of the second-half by the Storm, extending their lead when a sweeping move to the left allowed Brian To'o to score and put the Panthers 10 points clear.
The Storm battled their way back into the match when a Cameron Munster grubber in the 63rd minute deflected off Viliame Kikau and into the hands of a grateful Ryan Papenhuyzen who converted his own try to set up a grandstand finish.
A Kurt Capewell error followed by a penalty with three minutes to play gave Melbourne one last shot at saving their season.
But the Panthers' resolute defence held firm to send them to a second straight grand final and rematch with their conquerors in the opening week of the finals.
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