A hattrick by Brian To'o has capped a dominating team effort by the Penrith Panthers to book their place in the 2023 NRL Grand Final, thrashing Melbourne by 38-4.
Both sides engaged in early warfare with Melbourne answering the call in the opening sets of play. Off the back of a sloppy penalty, Penrith were able to advance up field and threw questions at Melbourne's suspect left edge after just three minutes.
Nathan Cleary drew in the defence before finding Dylan Edwards who drew in Justin Olam to find Brian To'o to cross for the first try of the evening. Cleary's conversion hit the posts and it was a slender lead for the home side.
Melbourne hit back soon after following a rare mistake from Edwards who dropped a regulation high ball. Nick Meaney linked up with Olam who got some revenge on the outside of the returning Izack Tago to cross for the visitors. Meaney's conversion also hit the posts and it was tied at 4-4.
Nelson Asofa-Solomona was pinned for a late shot and despite Adam Gee wanting a sin-bin, the bunker correctly confirmed the contact wasn't as forceful and illegal as first thought. Cleary knocked over a penalty goal for a 6-4 lead. Penrith's championship qualities came to the forefront when they again capitalised on some poor Melbourne handling out of their own end. It was a similar shift that saw To'o beat the sliding cover defence for his second try. Cleary converted from touch and it was a 12-4 lead.
Seven minutes later, Penrith went down a narrow blind-side off yet another cheap penalty. Jarome Luai did all the work engaging the line before Cleary put Warbrick in two minds and Sunia Turuva crosses outside. Penrith's star half added the extras and despite some late chances from the visitors it was 18-4 at the change of ends.
After a tense opening to the second fourth Jarome Luai decided to put his exclamation point on the second half in the 53rd minute. Luai skipped and danced his way through some Storm defence before sending Liam Martin through a yawning gap before passing to Cleary in support to score. Cleary converted to extend the margin out to 20.
Off the ensuing set, Stephen Crichton produced a magical flick outside to Turuva who broke free before finding Edwards to cross. Clary added the extras for a 30-4 lead. With just over 20 to go, Jarome Luai was put on ice for the remainder of the game and it didn't disrupt their flow. Brian To'o crossed for his hattrick after a strong bust from Isaah Yeo with 11 to go. From the ensuing tackle, Cleary and Tago combined with To'o to cross for his third. Cleary added the conversion and a later penalty goal to secure their grand final place.