SYDNEY: The Penrith Panthers are one win away from their first National Rugby League grand final in 17 years after three first-half tries from Nathan Cleary gave them a 29-28 win over the two-time defending champion Sydney Roosters.
Cleary scored 21 of thee Panthers 29 points, including a clutch 78th-minute field goal that proved the difference.
The win advances the Panthers, who finished in first place during the regular season, to a semifinal in two weeks. Under the NRLs second-chance playoff format for the top four teams, the Roosters will play the winner of Saturdays elimination final between the Canberra Raiders and Cronulla Sharks in the second round, likely next Friday in Sydney.
Second-place Melbourne were scheduled to play the Parramatta Eels later Saturday. A win would also advance the Storm to the semifinals in two weeks.
On Sunday, Newcastle plays the South Sydney Rabbitohs. The loser of that match is finished for the season, while the winner takes on the Melbourne-Parramatta loser in the second round.
The grand final, delayed like most other sports in the country due to the coronavirus pandemic, is scheduled for Oct. 25 at Sydneys Olympic stadium. Due to continuing crowd restrictions, the 82,000-seat stadium will be limited to 40,000 spectators under current plans.
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