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Nathan Cleary stars, puts Penrith into NRL preliminary final

Nathan Cleary has produced a finals masterclass to take Penrith to within a win of their third straight NRL decider with a 27-8 victory over Parramatta.

In a sparkling start to the finals, Cleary stole the show with a brilliant 10-minute period in the second half on Friday to take the qualifying final away from the Eels.

On return from his five-match ban for a dangerous tackle, the NSW No.7 terrorised the Eels with his kicking game and had a hand in all four Penrith tries.

An ugly head knock for halfback Mitch Moses, who looked rattled after being collected trying to make a tackle, added to Parramatta's woes.

But by that point, the Panthers were already well on top with the Eels' staring down the barrel of another do-or-die semi-final.

Cleary three times forced errors out of Eels winger Waqa Blake, who had a nightmare trying to field his former teammate's bombs.

The Panthers' opening try came off Blake's first error, allowing Moses Leota to put Brian To'o over after a spilled bomb.

Cleary also nailed a 30-metre field goal on halftime for a 7-6 lead after Moses missed a similar shot, and then exploded into action when the Eels took a one-point lead early in the second half.

Sensing Blake was down on confidence, Cleary again forced an error out of the former Panther with another towering kick that hung in the air for several seconds.

From the ensuing set, the Panthers No.7 swung the play to the right, gave Stephen Crichton space with early ball and helped him put To'o over for a second.

Eight minutes later Cleary caught Clint Gutherson out of position when he grubber-kicked early for Dylan Edwards, before backing it up by putting James Fisher-Harris over for another try after the kick-off.

And just like that, it was 25-8 and the game was done.

"He played very well tonight, I'm very proud of him," coach Ivan Cleary said of his son.

"He usually plays well in big games.

"He's always returned well in the past if he's ever been injured or hasn't played for a while.

"I was hoping it would happen. The way he was training and just the way he looked, I thought he would go alright."

Parramatta now find themselves in the same spot as in four of the past five years, with a match against Melbourne or Canberra next Friday to advance to a preliminary final.

A loss would otherwise continue their horror run in semi-finals, where they have been eliminated in 2017, 2019, 2020 and 2021.

Whether they will have Moses available is also in question, with a seven-day turnaround meaning he will need clearance from an independent neurologist if diagnosed with concussion.

Before his head knock, Moses had kicked well and looked on early, while Reed Mahoney also had a good first-half out of dummy-half as he put Oregon Kaufusi over for the Eels' only try.

Then with 30 minutes to go, it all went wrong and the Eels made nine errors and completed at only 33 per cent in the last half hour.

"We didn't give ourselves a chance in the second half with a lack of field position and red-zone errors," coach Brad Arthur said.

"We just gifted them field position ... And Nathan kicked us to death really."

Penrith also have some concerns.

Winger Taylan May left the field late with a leg injury, after also being sin-binned for a high shot early.

Prop Spencer Leniu was also placed on report for a high shot on Isaiah Papali'i, with anything greater than a grade-one charge set to see him at risk of missing matches.