30 years on from the Penrith Panthers’ first premiership, they’ve claimed their third defeating the South Sydney Rabbitohs 14-12.
After losing to Melbourne Storm in the Grand Final in 2020, Penrith claimed its third premiership by just two points, ending head coach Ivan Cleary’s drought as a coach winning his first after 369 matches.
It was a tight opening ten minutes with the Panthers getting more of the ball and pressuring the Rabbitohs’ line despite not scoring, but they looked to attack the left edge with both Matt Burton and Brian To’o looking to score.
Dane Gagai went down ten minutes into the match but played on for another two minutes before the trainers pulled him from the field for a HIA, injecting Benji Marshall into the game earlier than most would have expected.
Despite their deadly left edge, Souths attempted to find a gap on the right-hand side with Jaxson Paulo proving himself to be a handy option but was repeatedly held up inside 20.
The first try came from Burton 16 minutes into the match, following a line drop out, the Panthers chose to run the ball on the fifth tackle in the repeat set, with Luai playing the ball to Burton who ran through a hole in South Sydney’s defence to open the scoring for the match.
Another Rabbitohs player was sent from the field with Jai Arrow suffering a high tackle from Villame Kikau. The 26-year-old was reported but Arrow was also required to undergo an HIA.
Cody Walker managed to split the Panthers’ defence 20 minutes into the match to run in and score Souths’ first try of the match.
Luckily for the Rabbitohs Gagai was cleared minutes later and Arrow returned to the game shortly after the Rabbitohs’ centre.
Penrith got the chance to get back in front by two following a ruck infringement penalty from Arrow just after the 30-minute mark, with Cleary comfortably making the kick.
At halftime, Penrith was up by two, with both sides looking like they were fatiguing after a brutal first half.
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South Sydney was down a man following halftime after Arrow developed delayed symptoms and had to undergo a second HIA, which he ultimately failed. Due to the delayed removal from the game, the Rabbitohs were unable to activate the 18th man despite Kikau being placed on report.
Adam Reynolds got the opportunity to even up the scores following an obstruction penalty from Kurt Capewell, with the outgoing Rabbitoh kicking the two to bring the score to 8-8.
It looked like Penrith were going to put another four on the board by way of Kikau, however, the pass was called forward keeping the scores level.
Just as momentum appeared to be swinging the Rabbitohs way a pass from Walker was intercepted by Stephen Crichton who ran 45 metres to score the Panthers second try for the night and the conversion from Cleary put them six points in front.
Benji Marshall re-entered the game with 12 minutes to go looking to inject a fresher pair of legs into the match and potentially cause a similarly magical moment like the 2005 premiership.
He didn’t get that moment but Alex Johnston got to carve out his own piece of history with a try from a ball supplied by Gagai with just six minutes to go, scoring his 30th try of 2021. The 26-year-old is just the third player to score 30 or more tries in a single season and the first since Ray Preston in 1954, who scored 34.
However, Reynolds failed to equalise, missing the conversion kick leaving Penrith two points in front.
The battle wasn’t any less relentless in the remaining minutes, with Cameron Murray making a line break but brought down before he could score. In a hail mary attempt at levelling the scores, Reynolds made the first-ever attempt at a two-point field goal in an NRL Grand Final with a minute to go, however, the ball didn’t make the distance and bounced out.
All the Panthers had to do was survive a seven tackle set and they would be the premiers for 2021.
As the siren went the Penrith Panthers repeated history winning the premiership the year following a Grand Final loss, earning their third premiership.
Following the match Nathan Cleary was awarded the Clive Churchill medal, presented to him by his father and coach Ivan Cleary, scoring six points from two conversions and a penalty, kicking for 649 metres off of 21 kicks.
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