The Penrith Panthers are now just one win away from a grand final after a thrilling 29-28 win over back-to-back premiers the Sydney Roosters in an absolute classic of a final.
It was a rollercoaster of a match as the Roosters started strong with two tries in the opening eight minutes, before the Panthers built a lead and then the defending premiers came back late.
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But it was the Panthers who move into the preliminary finals on the back of a masterclass from young halves combination Nathan Cleary and Jerome Luai.
The Panthers’ halves have continued an outstanding performance with 42 try assists and 14 tries between them on the season, combining for more brilliance in against the Roosters.
Cleary scored a lions share of the Panthers’ score with 21 of the 29 points but his link with Luai shone brightly yet again as they orchestrated a 28-10 lead after 50 minutes, despite going 10-0 down inside the first eight.
It was a brilliant performance with rugby league Immortal Andrew Johns praising the pair when Luai kicked for Cleary as the Panthers claimed the lead.
“This is incredible, this is combinations,” Johns said in commentary for Nine. ”They‘ve played together since they’ve were 14-years-old.
“Luai just backs himself and look at his halfback, he just read the play. And have a look at this for courageous he just dives. That is incredible, how tough is that?
“It‘s just great combinations. Last play, Cleary was calling to get a kick on. Luai just takes off, he plays on instinct, and his halfback backs him up. That’s what great combinations do. They‘re flying at the moment, Penrith.”
Luai and Cleary set up the Panthers’ stunning victory.Source:Getty Images
On Fox League, Michael Ennis was blown away by the pair.
“Jarome Luai has been in stellar form… Nathan Cleary he has just got no hesitation in his game at all. He is completely in sync with his halves partner. That is utter brilliance,” he said.
Commentator Andrew Voss was in agreement.
“The highest praise I can give and the joy of watching Langer and Kevvie Walters at their best… watching Cleary and Luai combine, six and seven together play for each other… it brings just as much enjoyment to a rugby league fan to watch these two youngsters do the same sort of thing that legends like Walters and Langer did,” he said.
Cleary scored a first half hat-trick, claiming the third of his career and earning bragging right s over his father and coach Ivan, who scored two in his career.
Penrith's Nathan Cleary with one of the great 25 minutes or so. Terrific first half of #NRLFinals, well worth putting on/recording if you're able to
But the Roosters came back to set up a thriller with tries to James Tedesco and Josh Morris to cut the lead to six for the final 16 minutes.
Even when the Panthers looked to seal it with a Cleary field goal with just under three minutes remaining, a penalty handed the Roosters field position and ultimately a try through Angus Crichton to send it right down to the final seconds.
Post-match on Channel 9, Luai admitted it was “the hardest game I’ve ever played”.
“I got run over a couple of times so I have to work on that,” he said. “But props to Nath mate, he really stepped up tonight and led the way so props to my boy.”
Cleary, who was standing next to Luai added: “ That was just finals footy, I absolutely love playing it, that’s what we’ve built all season for and just happy to get the win.”
Yep, the Panthers were pretty happy with that one.Source:News Corp Australia
It was a heart-stopping finish with Panthers coach Ivan Cleary admitting “my heart was racing a bit for sure”.
While he said the beginning and the end of the game exposed the Panthers’ youth, the result sees the Panthers through to the club’s first preliminary final since 2014 and extends the side’s historic winning streak to 16, no just behind the 2002 Bulldogs (17) and 1975 Roosters (19) for the biggest winning streak in history.
“Nat’s shown throughout his young career that these types of games he goes well in,” Cleary said. “It’s just little details and competing and effort areas and he was good again there tonight.”
Asked about a penalty before he kicked the match winning field goal, where Nathan kicked for touch rather than for goal, Ivan joked: “I’m not sure he can kick that far.”
It was something Nathan admitted in his interview with Channel 9.
Told he didn’t want the Roosters to get the ball back, Ivan added: “I didn’t send down a directive, it was up to him really”.
Social media was blown away by the pulsating match between the two top four sides.
NRL Finals 2020 start with a classic. Minor Premiers Panther prevail. @NRLonNine Raider v Shark tomorrow evening. Like Raider. Then Storm v Eel. I like Storm. Finally on Sunday we have Rabbit v Knight. I’m saying Rabbit, but Knight could cause the upset. #enjoyyourfinalsfootball
I can confirm I had at least 8 heart attacks during that game. But SWEET 16 baby! We on we on! #NRLPanthersRoosters
Just aged ten years. #Panthers
yes. let Nathan Cleary's chin guide the way. it will lead us to the Promised Land #NRLPanthersRoosters
Every year the quality of the NRL rises to another level in the playoffs. And we've just seen it in the first game between @PenrithPanthers and @sydneyroosters as the Panthers hold on for a 29-28 victory. Don't be too surprised if their next meeting is in the Grand Final.
The kick that broke the Roosters’ hearts.Source:Getty Images
While the Roosters couldn’t kick a field goal to send it to extra time, it was an incredible comeback from the side.
Roosters coach Trent Robinson said he was proud of his side.
He admitted his team was “out of sorts” but when asked if the Roosters “found themselves” in the comeback, he agreed.
“Character gets exposed on the biggest stage and we didn’t win but our character stood up,” he said. “We’ve got to our execution and skill level to follow our character and we’ll be a much better team next week.”
The Roosters will need plenty of character to make the grand final with Phil Gould pointing at the tough road ahead if the games go on favouritism.
“So, if games go with favouritism over next three weeks, Rooster could well have to beat Raider, Storm, Panther, in that order, to win the comp. That’s some challenge right there. Of course Eel could put a spanner in the works by beating Storm tomorrow. Interesting series,” Gould tweeted.
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