MACKAY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 18: Tevita Pangai Junior of the Panthers watches on during the NRL Semifinal match between the Penrith Panthers and the Parramatta Eels at BB Print Stadium on September 18, 2021 in Mackay, Australia. (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

Although the Panthers drew the ire of a swathe of social media users last night for their dual use of the free interchange card, the moves made by the 2020 minor premiers were well and truly legal.

Eyebrows were raised when former Bronco Tevita Pangai Jr. was taken on and off the field during the 69th and 76th minutes of the clash against Parramatta, yet neither counted towards the Panthers' substitution tally that is capped at eight per side.

However, as explained by Fox League reporter Jake Duke, both the exclusion and inclusion of the 25-year-old were above board as they came following acts of foul play.

According to Duke, the laws of the game in 2021 state that each side holds an extra pair of free interchanges up their sleeves for when reportable acts are committed, such as Pangai Jr's benching after a high-shot on Parramatta's Marata Niukore.

“We have to explain that free interchange,” Duke said of the player transaction.

Mitch Kenny came off, Tevita Pangai Jr goes back on.

“That’s because when he came off with a free interchange earlier in the match from the foul play, he’s allowed to come back on with a free interchange.

“There’s no controversy about that.”

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Despite these acts meeting legal requirements, several other incidents of players attempting to milk penalties across the semi-final contest's scoreless second-half had both punters and pundits hot under the collar.

Across the 'do or die' match-up that would finish 8-6 in Penrith's favour, players from both sides - most notably Panther Scott Sorenson and Eel Blake Ferguson were seen to have played up for the whistle.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 03: Nathan
Brown of the Eels (center) celebrates a try with team mate Blake
Ferguson during the NRL Qualifying Final match between the Melbourne Storm and the Parramatta Eels at Suncorp Stadium on October 03, 2020 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)

Having edged ahead of their Western Sydney rivals via the boot of Nathan Cleary on the stroke of half-time, Penrith ground out a win with a similar scoreline to the 1986 Grand Final - ironically the last time that the Eels tasted the ultimate success.

The Panthers will now earn a chance to book a ticket back to the seasonal decider when they take on the Storm in a preliminary final at 4pm next Saturday afternoon.