Penrith Panthers secure their third NRL Premiership in a grinding 14-12 success against South Sydney Rabbitohs tonight in front of 39,223 fans at Suncorp Stadium.
The Panthers fell one game short last year, tonight they made amends in a brutal contest in what has been one of the most trying seasons in the NRL. Nathan CLeary kicked his side to victory alongside tries from Matt Burton and Stephen Crichton to deliver the Premiership.
It was a grinding and tough affair between two quality defensive sides. Penrith pinned the Rabbitohs deep in their end all through the first half through Cleary's kicking game and the halfback built the pressure with half a dozen forced dropouts in the contest.
Points were at a premium but when it was required Penrith went to their trusted left edge. A swift movement out the back saw Jarome Luai double-pump the pass and put centre Matt Burton over untouched then Cleary added a further two from the boot to make it 8-6 before the break.
The Rabbitohs have had to dig deep all year through adversity and threw a punch back at the Panthers side. Mercurial five-eighth stepped up and swung at the rock solid Panthers defensive line, stepped past several defenders and made it 6-6 on the half hour mark.
In a game where points were at a pemium, the game was made of moments. The big moment came again from Cody Walker but was a negative one. He tried to engineer an attack down the Rabbitohs left side before his spiral pass was snaffled by Stephen Crichton who travelled the distance to make it 14-8 Panthers.
Once again, the Rabbitohs threw one final punch to get themselves back in the game. Time was winding down in the 74th minute, the Rabbitohs surged down their famed left-side attack with the usual result - Alex Johnston scored in the corner - it left it down to Adam Reynolds from the tee to level things up at 14-all.
Playing his final game in the famed cardinal and myrtle, looking to get his side their 22nd Premiership. The dependable boot stepped up but faded his conversion just wide of the right hand post and saw the game end in heartbreak instead of heroics for a halfback who has bled for the Rabbitohs.
Instead the Panthers achieved the destiny which was denied in 2020. Premiers and close to the best side all season, finally got the silverware they were looking for. Ivan and Nathan Cleary join an exclusive list of father and son duos to win a Premiership. Also it is a Premiership built in Sydney's west.
When they were calling out the junior clubs for the victorious players, a majority were in the western suburbs and they did it for the area tonight and of course, did it for every one of the Panthers fans who lived through last season's disappointment.
For the Rabbitohs, it might be the last chance for them with some of their key figures in Wayne Bennett and Adam Reynolds moving on. It was a fantastic September for the famous club and they delivered plenty of memories but tonight's bitterness will fuel them through to 2022.