The Panthers have a nervous wait to see if Nathan Cleary will be cleared to play in the grand final after he was placed on report for a lifting tackle on Storm second-rower Kenny Bromwich.
The 21st-minute tackle could lead to either a fine or a suspension from the NRL’s match review committee, if deemed serious enough.
A suspension would rule out Cleary for the premiership decider, although the club would likely fight the charge on Tuesday night.
Speaking after the 10-6 upset win against the Storm in the preliminary final on Saturday afternoon, Cleary said he would rather skip the date with the judiciary before facing the Rabbitohs next Sunday.
“I didn’t think it was that bad,” he said. “Fingers crossed it will be fine. I’d rather not [be at the judiciary] so we will have to see.”
Penrith coach Ivan Cleary was equally confident the halfback would not be banned, but conceded he may be hit with a fine.
Liam Martin and Nathan Cleary celebrate on Saturday.Credit:Getty
“I think he will be [fine]. He will be right,” he said when asked whether he believed there was anything in the tackle.
The coach had another halves scare during the game when a groggy Jerome Luai left the field after being hit by a stray Cameron Munster arm to the back of his head. Luai was cleared to return to the field.
Cleary will be sweating on the fitness of Tevita Pangai jnr, who left the field 18 minutes in after picking up a knee injury, as well as James Fisher-Harris, who went down with a leg complaint.
“We aren’t a squad that’s running around with no injuries. It’s just how it is, but we battle on,” Cleary said.
‘We trained well during the week. It’s just really disappointing. I didn’t see it coming.’
Meanwhile, Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy said the loss was possibly the worst attacking game of the Storm’s season.
Bellamy said he had no idea where the 15 errors from the Storm came from during Saturday’s clash and labelled the number of mistakes by the minor premiers as a complete shock.
“It’s really hard to take,” he said. “Our attack was probably our poorest performance – if not the [poorest performance of the season]. We trained well during the week. It’s just really disappointing. I didn’t see it coming.”
As well as Bellamy, few fans would have successfully predicted how Melbourne’s afternoon at Suncorp Stadium panned out.
The Storm ended their season on Friday night in the preliminary final. Credit:Getty
The Panthers produced a level of consistency the Storm clearly were not expecting.
Within two minutes, Stephen Crichton got his hands on a bomb from Nathan Cleary to get the Panthers off to a perfect start. The try should have fired up the Storm but instead it rattled them.
The Melbourne reply everyone expected never came, with the Panthers producing a stunning win.
“Obviously it hurt,” Bellamy said. “But at the end of the day, we got what we deserved and the Panthers got what they deserved.
“We dropped a couple of real opportunities and dropped a lot of balls. We didn’t have a whole heap going for us.”
Their poor start was made worse by the loss of Brandon Smith and Christian Welch. Both players were taken off the field within the first 15 minutes due to head knocks and did not return.
Despite going into the match heavy favourites, Bellamy did not believe his team was over confident.
“That’s one thing we sort of talked about, we mentioned early in the week,” Bellamy said.
“I don’t think that was a problem but, for a couple of guys, it might have been. I can’t read what they’re thinking but I’d hate to think that was the case.”
The result means NRL fans won’t be treated to the battle of master coaches in the decider but will instead get to see the recent tension between Ivan Cleary and Wayne Bennett reach a climax.
For the Storm, it will be back to Melbourne and the drawing board to work out where things went wrong.
The Storm will be without captain Dale Finucane, who is off to the Sharks next year alongside teammate Nicho Hynes. They will also lose star winger Josh Addo-Carr to the Bulldogs.
“I’m certainly disappointed now not just for myself but for the team because the season that we had … was really positive, in terms of achievement of the 19 [wins] in a row, the minor premiership,” Finucane said.
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