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Penrith’s spectacular second-half resurgence fell just short as Cronulla squeaked home 21-20 in a nerve-shredding sudden-death semi – after leading by 16 points at halftime.

Matt Moylan won his highly-publicised five-eighth duel with a patchy James Maloney, but Sharks No.7 Chad Townsend was the hero with a try, an assist and the match-winning field goal with five minutes remaining.

The Panthers dominated the second half to level the game up at 20-all but ultimately suffered a week two exit for the third straight season.

The Sharks raced to a 14-0 lead after just 15 minutes. Townsend scooted over for the opener from an Andrew Fifita offload, then threw the last pass for Valentine Holmes to stroll in after Sosaia Feki batted a Matt Moylan kick back to his halfback.

Errors crippled the Panthers’ bid to claw their way back into the contest, with the aggressive defence of Luke Lewis and Andrew Fifita forcing mistakes and line dropouts.

Moylan capped a superb individual half with a beautiful short ball for Lewis to pour through a hole and score the Sharks’ third try in the 31st minute.

Penrith’s belated attacking chances before halftime were wasted and a penalty goal after the siren was all they could manage, heading to the sheds 18-2 down.

But a sloppy start to the second half from the Sharks swung the momentum dramatically the way of the Panthers. Reversing roles from the first try they conjured against the Warriors last week, Tyrone Peachey put a grubber through and Nathan Cleary’s determined chase caught Holmes short.

Handling again started to let the Panthers down and the Sharks edged back out to a 12-point lead with 21 minutes left after Bill Kikau clipped Townsend high.

Penrith turned the semi-final on its head in the space of a couple of minutes, however: Isaah Yeo muscled over from close-range before Kikau made a long bust to set up Waqa Blake for a stunning try. Cleary coolly converted both for 20-all.

Match-ending injuries to Paul Gallen and Lewis complicated matters further for wilting Cronulla, but a Sosaia Feki break provided the field position for Townsend to slide a field goal through in the 75th minute.

The Panthers regained the ball from a short kick-off but Cleary agonisingly hooked the levelling field goal attempt and the Sharks grimly defended out the dying minutes.

The Sharks move on to a mouth-watering preliminary final date with archrivals Melbourne – albeit with another couple of their most important stars under an injury cloud.

NRL SEMI-FINAL – Cronulla 21 (Chad Townsend, Valentine Holmes, Luke Lewis tries; Holmes 4 goals; Townsend field goal) d Penrith (Nathan Cleary, Isaah Yeo, Waqa Blake tries; Cleary 4 goals) at Allianz Stadium

Brisbane moved to a 2-0 record in the NRL Women’s Premiership via a convincing 14-4 victory over Sydney Roosters.

After an evenly-fought first 20 minutes, the Broncos took a stranglehold on the match when five-eighth Ali Brigginshaw and second-rower Teuila Fotu-Moala crossed for excellent tries before halftime.

Broncos centre Meg Ward put the visitors up 14-0 when she dotted down seven minutes into the second stanza, with opposing centre Isabelle Kelly’s late try pure consolation for the Roosters, who now must rely on St George Illawarra upsetting the Warriors on Saturday to keep their grand final hopes alive.

NRLW RD 2 – Brisbane Broncos 14 (Ali Brigginshaw, Teuila Fotu-Moala, Meg Ward tries; Chelsea Baker goal) d Sydney Roosters 4 (Isabelle Kelly try) at Allianz Stadium


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