Penrith until the grand finale, but doubts surround support Spencer Leniu after a brutal high shot

Penrith has reached a third consecutive major final after beating South Sydney 32-12 and creating a promoter’s dream with a Battle of the West NRL playoff against Parramatta.

In a dramatic pre-final, Penrith was 12-0 down until four minutes before half-time but led 18-12 just after the break to control the game. Souths winger Taane Milne was also the first player in 28 years to be sent off in a finals game for a high shot at Panthers Spencer Leniu in the last 20 minutes.

WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE Milne was sent off for a brutal high shot.

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The fitness of an emotional Leniu is now likely to be a concern ahead of the grand final after he was sent for a second head injury assessment and failed to return.

Penrith will also sweat over the availability of Viliame Kikau and Jarome Luai, with coach Ivan Cleary confident neither will be suspended for scoring against Campbell Graham.

For now, however, nothing will spoil the party for the Panthers as they have given themselves every chance to become just the second team to win back-to-back titles in the NRL era.

Taane Milne was sent off for a brutal high shot. Recognition: Getty Images

“It feels great. It’s fantastic,” said coach Cleary.

“It doesn’t happen every day to reach a grand final.

“We worked so hard and it’s been a long season. There is so much in it and so many ups and downs.”

Nathan Cleary was brilliant as always, Kikau was strong on defense and Dylan Edwards was excellent at the back on both attack and defence.

But after three years of dominance and without having to catch up by more than 10 points, they had to work hard for this victory.

They were denied by the bunker three times in the first half as Souths scored the first two tries of the game.

The Panthers eventually rose, with Brian To’o delivering a game almost as decisive as Stephen Crichton’s intercept in last year’s Grand Finals.

Izack Tago celebrates with teammate Brian To’o. Recognition: Markus Metcalfe/Getty Images

After a quick play-the-ball from Kikau allowed Api Koroisau to leap out of the dummy half in the 37th minute, To’o picked up a dropped ball from Graham and sped 80 yards to catch the siren to score a goal.

His run included an almighty save against Cody Walker that rocked the Souths’ defense and turned an 18-6 lead for the Rabbitohs into a 12-12 deadlock.

And when Kikau brought down a Lachlan Ilias kick just after the break and Nathan Cleary brought in a Grubber kick for Leniu, the game was as good as over.

Cleary also scored a late four of his own as Penrith ran away with it while his kick terrorized the South Sydney wingers again.

Edwards produced several crucial kick returns to put Penrith on the front foot with his 230 yards and he executed a series of tackles as a last line of defence.

Nathan Cleary and Dylan Edwards celebrate together. Recognition: Markus Metcalfe/Getty Images

In comparison, the Panthers managed to keep Latrell Mitchell quiet, with his only real impact coming when he helped place Richie Kennar for a try down the left wing.

Mitchell, Kennar, Graham and Milne all took regular hard hits in the first half, while Cody Walker scored Souths’ first try but didn’t make his usual impact.

It came as Souths once again failed to make use of a prelim final after reaching that stage for a fifth consecutive non-title season.

“I come in here with optimism. And when we were 0:12, I was optimistic,” said coach Jason Demetriou.

“The competitor in me wants to hate Penrith. I really do. But the coach in me respects what they do.

“And it’s a credit to Ivan and her club and what they’ve been able to produce over the past three years.

“They are the benchmark and will be hard to beat next week.”

Panthers to their third straight grand final

Panthers to their third straight grand final–c-8345061 Penrith until the grand finale, but doubts surround support Spencer Leniu after a brutal high shot

James Brien

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