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Cleary’s Miracle: Penrith Panthers Snatch NRL Grand Final Victory from the Jaws of Defeat

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Nathan Cleary has engineered the greatest comeback in grand final history to hand Penrith a historic NRL three-peat with a 26-24 win over Brisbane.

Down 24-8 with 18 minutes to play, Cleary set up two tries and scored one of his own in the dying minutes to give the Panthers the lead and earn himself a second Clive Churchill Medal.

The most crucial of those came with three minutes left when Cleary darted back through the middle of the field to score and then convert take a two-point match-winning lead.

Penrith then held on for the final minutes, with Scott Sorensen intercepting a Reece Walsh offload to end Brisbane’s hopes of victory.

The win overtakes Melbourne’s comeback from 14 points down against St George Illawarra in 1999 as the biggest-ever in a decider.

The victory also stakes Penrith’s claim as one of the all-time great rugby league sides, becoming the first team since Parramatta in 1983 to win three straight titles.

But it hasn’t been completed in the NRL era or under a salary cap.

Making Cleary’s effort even more remarkable was that he did it without five-eighth Jarome Luai, who succumbed to a shoulder injury with 28 minutes to play.

Penrith looked shot early in the second half when Ezra Mam scored three tries in the space of 10 minutes to take Brisbane from 8-6 down to a 24-8 lead.

All three tries came from a distance, with Mam stepping past Lindsay Smith and Izack Tago for his first and Isaah Yeo and Cleary for his next.

Walsh then inserted himself into the game, stepping past Cleary, fending off Tago and putting Mam over for his hat-trick.

But after his two defensive lapses, Cleary made up for it as he masterminded a Penrith fightback.

With 18 minutes to play, Cleary stepped through the Broncos’ line and put Moses Leota over, reducing the margin to 10.

From the next set he produced a pinpoint perfect 40-20, before sending Stephen Crichton over moments later following a Pat Carrigan error.

Then, just as Brisbane looked set to hold on, Cleary stepped through a broken defensive line to give the Panthers their fifth title and by far their most miraculous.

“It honestly feels like a dream,” Cleary said.

“The start of that second half was a nightmare. It was so bad. We were down but never out. We keep fighting, that’s our mentality.

“There was so much fatigue. I just had to keep telling myself, just keep going, keep going.

“It would have been easy to give up then but we had to keep fighting. That’s what we do.”

Cleary became the first player in history to win back-to-back Clive Churchill Medals.

“I’m trying to think of a better halfback performance,” league great Andrew Johns said on Nine.

“He willed this team over.

“That performance by Nathan Cleary in the last 20 minutes of that game, is without doubt the best performance by a halfback in a grand final.

“What a game by the champion halfback.”

Penrith had earlier dominated the first half, but only had an 8-6 half-time lead to show for it when Thomas Flegler crashed over for Brisbane right on half time.

Despite their charge, the loss means the Broncos’ premiership drought will extend into a least an 18th season.

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AFL won’t appeal tribunal call on Charlie Cameron

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AFL won’t appeal tribunal call on Charlie Cameron

This week, the AFL has decided not to appeal the tribunal’s decision to downgrade Charlie Cameron’s rough conduct suspension to a fine. Despite considering a one-match ban as the appropriate sanction, the league has accepted the tribunal’s ruling.

On Tuesday night, the Brisbane Lions star contested his one-match suspension for a dumping tackle on Melbourne’s Jake Lever at the MCG the previous week. The tribunal dismissed Cameron’s argument that the impact of the incident should have been graded as “low” instead of “medium.”

However, the tribunal, chaired by Jeff Gleeson, found exceptional and compelling circumstances to exercise its discretion and reduce the ban to a fine. They cited Cameron’s clean disciplinary record over his 207-game career as a key factor in their decision.

As a result, Cameron will be able to play in Brisbane’s upcoming important clash against Geelong on Saturday night. AFL Chief Executive Andrew Dillon stated that while the league believed a one-game ban was the appropriate sanction, they respected the tribunal’s use of discretion.

Match review officer Michael Christian had initially graded the tackle as careless conduct, medium impact, and high contact – resulting in the one-match ban. However, the tribunal’s decision to convert the ban to a fine was ultimately influenced by Cameron’s previous record and character references from Eddie Betts and an Indigenous elder.

While the outcome could potentially set a precedent for future cases, Dillon did not directly address this in his statement. However, he did mention that the AFL would assess whether character references should be a factor in tribunal guidelines during the end-of-season review.

The decision to give Cameron special consideration was noteworthy, especially as the AFL has been focused on penalizing actions that could lead to head injuries or concussions. In the past, the league faced backlash for a similar situation in 2017 involving Bachar Houli, prompting an appeal due to a perceived lenient penalty based on character references.

Despite this recent decision, the AFL’s stance on maintaining player safety remains a key priority, and they will continue to review and refine their disciplinary processes to ensure fair and consistent outcomes.

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‘Easy decision’: Maxwell on indefinite leave from IPL

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‘Easy decision’: Maxwell on indefinite leave from IPL

IPL Glenn Maxwell has taken indefinite leave from the Indian Premier League after a dire start to the tournament with Royal Challengers Bengaluru.

Maxwell asked RCB’s captain Faf du Plessis and coaching staff to drop him after he managed only 32 runs across his first six knocks this tournament, 28 of those coming in the one hit-out.

RCB are on a five-game losing streak and sit last on the ladder as the tournament approaches its halfway point.

“After the first few games hadn’t gone to plan personally for me, it was a pretty easy decision,” Maxwell told reporters.

“I went to (du Plessis) and the coaches last game and said it was time to probably try someone else. I have been in this situation before in the past, where you can keep playing and dig yourself into a hole.

“Now is actually the best time to give myself a mental and physical break.

“My personal results have reflected the results we have had. I felt like I wasn’t contributing in a positive way and it felt like, with the position we find ourselves at the table, to give someone else the opportunity.”

The dry spell comes less than two months out from the T20 World Cup in North America.

Australia are plotting to improve on an underwhelming finish at the 2022 edition, when the hosts failed to advance to the knockout stage.

Prior to a middling Twenty 20 International series against New Zealand, Maxwell had enjoyed a stellar T20 summer.

He whacked an unbeaten 120 from 55 balls against West Indies in January, his highest score in a T20I since September 2016, having also guided Australia to victory in the third T20I of the India series with 104 not out last November.

But Maxwell’s IPL campaign began with a first-ball duck against Chennai Super Kings, with two more ducks following and only one score above four runs.

“It has been a pretty tough struggle, given my body is on the wrong side of 30. I think that physical and mental toll probably just wore me down a little bit,” Maxwell said of his campaign thus far.

Elsewhere, a brutal century by Travis Head blasted Sunrisers Hyderabad back into the Indian Premier League play-off places in another match for bowlers to forget.

Head’s first T20 hundred was the fourth-fastest in IPL history, made off 39 balls. His 102 was the launchpad for Hyderabad to make 3-287, bettering their own IPL record of 3-277 set earlier this season.

Yet they only won by 25 runs as RCB recovered from 6-181 in the 15th over to finish 7-262. The 549-run aggregate was easily the highest in IPL history.

Head’s blistering ton included eight sixes and nine fours.

The Australian left-hander pounded the fast bowlers, notably New Zealand’s Lockie Ferguson (2-52), who had a forgettable first game of the season as Bengaluru’s ploy not to go with a specialist spinner backfired.

Head raised his half-century off 20 balls and completed his century off the next 19 before finally holing out off Ferguson to mid-off.

“The pitch played beautifully,” he said.

“We thought we had to take the license to go.”

Of his own batting he added: “It’s not the prettiest thing in the world but I’m pleased with how I struck the ball today.”

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Tszyu wants rematch after cruel Fundora defeat

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Tszyu wants rematch after cruel Fundora defeat

Tim Tszyu is determined to seek redemption after his heartbreaking defeat at the hands of Sebastian Fundora in Las Vegas. The Australian boxer, who suffered his first loss in 25 fights, is eager to enact a rematch clause to face Fundora once again and reclaim his world title.

Tszyu’s plans for global boxing domination were put on hold as Fundora emerged victorious in a split decision, leaving Tszyu without his WBO super welterweight belt and missing out on a chance to claim the vacant WBC strap at T-Mobile Arena. Despite the setback, Tszyu remains undeterred and is ready to step back into the ring for a shot at redemption.

The fight took a turn for the worse for Tszyu at the end of the second round when he walked into Fundora’s elbow, resulting in a severe cut on his head that impaired his vision for the remainder of the match. Despite the challenges, Tszyu showed resilience and determination throughout the fight, earning praise for his warrior spirit.

Although Tszyu acknowledged Fundora’s skills and the difficulties posed by his height advantage and southpaw stance, he expressed no regrets about taking on the challenge at short notice. In a post-fight press conference with blood still dripping down his face despite receiving 10 stitches, Tszyu stated, “A bit of blood never killed nobody. It was a good war and I started off well.”

Following his defeat, Tszyu has set his sights on a rematch with Fundora to recapture his world title and prove his mettle once again. Despite the potential for a mega-fight against boxing stars like Terence Crawford or Errol Spence Jr, Tszyu’s immediate focus is on avenging his loss and reclaiming his status as a world-class boxer.

With a rematch clause in place, Tszyu’s promoter George Rose is confident that they can secure a second bout with Fundora. Despite Fundora’s newfound status as a unified world champion, Tszyu remains determined to seize the opportunity for a rematch and prove himself in the ring once more.

As Tszyu gears up for a potential rematch with Fundora, the boxing world eagerly awaits the outcome of this highly anticipated showdown. Tszyu’s resilience and determination in the face of adversity have garnered respect and admiration from fans and critics alike, setting the stage for an epic rematch that could redefine his legacy in the sport.

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