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Could Nathan Cleary’s send-off destroy Penrith’s premiership campaign?

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Penrith halfback Nathan Cleary is staring at up to five games on the sideline after he was sent off for the first time in his career during the Panthers’ 34-10 NRL loss to Parramatta.

Cleary was given his marching orders by referee Todd Smith after a spear tackle on lively Eels five-eighth Dylan Brown in the 17th minute in Friday night’s round 20 clash.

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Brown was slammed head first into the turf by Cleary, whose dismissal was warmly greeted by the Eels fans who formed part of the 26,912-strong crowd at Western Sydney Stadium.

Cleary is the first Penrith player since Travis Burns in 2012 to be sent off in an NRL premiership game.

Manly’s Karl Lawton and Wests Tigers centre Brent Naden were both handed four-game suspensions for grade-three dangerous tackles earlier this season.

Owing to a previous sanction this year, Cleary is likely to get a five-game suspension if hit with a grade-three charge when the NRL’s match review committee announces its charges on Saturday morning.

If he gets a grade-two charge he would be looking at just a three-match ban.

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The first-placed Panthers, who are one win from securing the minor premiership, face Canberra, Melbourne, South Sydney, the Warriors and North Queensland to round out their season.

A ban for Cleary could not have come at a worse time, with starting five-eighth Jarome Luai sidelined with a knee injury.

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The ability of Sean O’Sullivan, who scored the opening try of the night, will be put to the test over the coming weeks with both Cleary and Luai spending time on the sidelines.

Utility Jaeman Salmon and two-game rookie Kurt Falls, who has been battling an ankle injury, are the men likely to partner him for the back-end of the season.

The defeat was just Penrith’s second of the year, with both losses coming at the hands of the Eels.

The victory breathes life into an Eels campaign that appeared to be fizzing out after nearly two months of up-and-down performances.

The Eels, who lost winger Bailey Simonsson to a hamstring injury in the build-up, moved into sixth spot on the ladder and travel to Manly next Friday.

After Cleary set up O’Sullivan for the opening try, Isaiah Papali’i nabbed one back for the Eels in a helter-skelter opening period.

A deft 40/20 from Mitchell Moses led to Fijian winger Maika Sivo barrelling his way over in the corner next and both teams were neck and neck until Cleary’s send-off changed the whole complexion of the game.

The Eels hammered home their numerical advantage with crafty hooker Reed Mahoney grabbing a double and skipper Clint Gutherson also crossing to give them a 30-4 buffer at the break.

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Penrith held firm after half-time and eventually got over through Liam Martin just after the hour mark.

The Eels struggled for fluency and even with their rivals a man down couldn’t score again until the 78th minute when Sivo added a second.

Melbourne Storm 24 def Warriors 12

For the second time in the 2022 NRL season, the Storm cashed in on a flat second half by the Warriors, winning 24-12 at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland.

After a tumultuous week in the NRL, which started with a refereeing controversy and continued on with the Manly pride jersey saga, the Warriors would have been happy just to be sliding under the radar in their second home game of the season.

But the Storm certainly had them in their sights, taking the direct approach and laying on a series of heavy shots soon after the game kicked off.

Nelson Asofa-Solomona’s hit on Wayde Egan left the Warriors hooker with a suspected broken jaw after only a few minutes, an act that saw the Storm prop placed on report and the big Mt Smart crowd incensed.

The Storm then cashed in on the forced reshuffle, with Justin Olam cruising through some very weak defence on the left edge.

Queensland Origin hooker Harry Grant got the Storm back on track with a try off a Felise Kaufusi break. Some Storm indiscipline promptly gave the ball back to the home side, with Kosi making it a double with five minutes to go in the half.

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But hopes the Warriors fans had of pulling off a win over their storied rivals didn’t last much longer than the break.

Jahrome Hughes scored almost straight after the restart, then replacement fullback Nick Meaney got on the end of a pinpoint centre kick by Grant Anderson to make the score 20-8.

A big mistake by the Warriors shortly after saw them concede a penalty straight out in front, which Meaney slotted to increase the lead to 12.

However, that was the last meaningful contribution he made as he left the field with a nasty-looking shoulder injury. This will be concerning for coach Craig Bellamy, who is already missing regular fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen.

Kosi crossed for a well-deserved hattrick, but it was too little, too late.

The loss leaves them anchored in the bottom four while the Storm move up to a share of fourth with the Broncos.

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