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Cleary marched in Penrith-Eels NRL clash

Penrith halfback Nathan Cleary could miss the rest of the regular season 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.

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 CommBank 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.

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.

"I think he's going to be missing for a bit, going off other examples this year," Penrith coach Ivan Cleary said of his son.

"He feels like he's let everyone down.

"We've had a couple of games without those guys and we've prepared for guys missing.

"I've got faith in our squad to deal with injuries or guys missing. I'm confident the boys will take it on."

The ability of playmaker 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 out.

Utility Jaeman Salmon or two-game rookie Kurt Falls will vie 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 fizzling out after nearly two months of up-and-down performances under coach Brad Arthur.

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 sending-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.

Penrith held firm after halftime and eventually got over through Liam Martin just after the hour.

The Eels veered off course in the second half and were only able to score when Sivo added his second try two minutes before the end.

"Sometimes it gets hard in that situation when they are a man down," said Arthur, whose side face Manly next week.

"You can get a bit loose with your mentality but I felt they (Penrith) were very brave in the second half."

© AAP 2022