Panthers’ fairytale run ends in chaotic grand final

 

After a Sydney downpour, this was rugby league's Purple Rain - and the Prince was Cameron Smith.

Smith's mighty Melbourne Storm spectacularly secured a third premiership in nine years with a 26-20 COVID-season NRL grand final win over crowd favourites, Penrith. It was an extraordinary match.

The Panthers' 17-year wait for a title continues for heartbroken fans. It was 22-0 at halftime - only the second time in rugby league history a side led by more than 20 points at the break.

Catch Fox League's grand final reviews and replays on Kayo. New to Kayo? Get your 14-day free trial & start streaming instantly >

Nathan Cleary and the Panthers during their NRL grand final loss to the Storm.
Nathan Cleary and the Panthers during their NRL grand final loss to the Storm.

 

It was a demoralising opening period for a Penrith side which hadn't been thrown into such a high-pressured and chaotic situation this year.

After 17 successive wins, Penrith was denied an 18th birthday present. There was a theory a bad game was close after so many wins - sadly it arrived during a horror first half in the grand final.

This was a sad end to what had been an exciting and exhilarating season for Sydney's self-confessed westies. The city of Penrith - and its 200,000 residents - was left rocked at how their side collapsed in the first half.

But the Panthers did finally roar.

A late four-try Penrith rally, and the sin-binning of Storm halfback Jahrome Hughes and hooker Brandon Smith, was not enough despite giving their fans something to feel good about. The Panthers certainly didn't give up.

 

Ryan Papenhuyzen celebrates winning the 2020 NRL grand final.
Ryan Papenhuyzen celebrates winning the 2020 NRL grand final.

The clock was stopped with three seconds remaining after Penrith halfback Nathan Cleary scored a late try and declined the kick at goal.

From the kick off, Penrith flung the ball around brilliantly in a desperate attempt to score the match-winner after the siren. It wasn't to be though. It was a frenetic finish to a wonderful season.

Even Storm coach Craig Bellamy feared a Panthers comeback in the dying minutes.

"When they got to 10 points (behind), I thought we could have got run down, yeah," Bellamy told Channel 9.

"At the end of the day, they hung in there and, it was a big relief when we got the ball back there. So it was great."

 

Dejected Panthers during their NRL grand final loss.
Dejected Panthers during their NRL grand final loss.

 

Decked in their traditional purple and white strip, the Storm were clinical, professional and powerful. Prince's 1984 classic Purple Rain could be re-titled Purple Reign.

There could now be an argument Melbourne has enjoyed the most sustained success since the legendary St George sides of the 1950s and 60s. It was their ninth grand final in 18 years.

And Smith enjoyed the golden farewell we all expected. He scored a try and kicked three goals.

Fittingly, Smith leaves the NRL as a grand final winner alongside other legendary figures including Mal Meninga, Mick Cronin, Ray Price, Royce Simmons, Steve Menzies and Cooper Cronk.

 

Melbourne Storm celebrate NRL grand final victory.
Melbourne Storm celebrate NRL grand final victory.

 

Smith will retire as one of - if not the - greatest players of all-time. His long-time accomplice, master coach Bellamy, has now won three premierships and had a further two stripped for salary cap dramas. He rises to another level in coaching greatness.

Bellamy was still roaring and screaming in the coaching box even with his side ahead by 20 points inside the final 13 minutes.

"They're a really special bunch of guys," Bellamy said.

"With all due respect, I don't think they're an overly talented team compared to some of the other sides we had, but they just keep hanging in, keep getting the job done."

 

Cameron Smith celebrates a try during the 2020 NRL grand final. Picture: Brett Costello
Cameron Smith celebrates a try during the 2020 NRL grand final. Picture: Brett Costello

 

Melbourne deserved Sunday night's win just through sustained excellence. The Storm's win was even more meritorious given the club was based on the Sunshine Coast for five months.

Cleary felt the pressure, throwing an intercept pass that led to an 80 metre try to Storm winger Suli Vunivalu. He was also caught out in defence, which led to a Ryan Papenhuyzen try.

Storm stars Papenhuyzen, Dale Finucane and Josh Addo-Carr are now ready for NSW State of Origin selection. Melbourne was placed under some pressure during the first half but their scrambling defence was effective.

Melbourne just kept grinding away - they are relentless. The last western Sydney club to win a grand final - after Penrith's loss - remains Wests Tigers back in 2005.

Despite the heavy loss, Penrith will still have a strong NSW representation with Cleary, Isaah Yeo, Stephen Crichton and Jarome Luai on Sunday night named in the Blues' 27-man squad.

Before a crowd of 37,303, most of them shattered Penrith fans, Melbourne dropped the ball on tackle one of the game. But that's where their issues ended.

In just the fifth minute, Penrith's Tyrone May illegally kicked the ball from the arms of Storm centre Justin Olam, who was about to score a try. Video referee Steve Chiddy awarded a penalty try.

And the match was just about over when giant-striding Vunivalu scored. It pushed the score out to 16-0 after Smith kicked two previous penalty goals.

And with six seconds remaining in the first half, Smith scored and converted to give Melbourne a 22-0 lead. Papenhuyzen ran 80 minutes early in the second half to give Melbourne a 26-point lead.

 

 

 

That's when Penrith began to fire up but they just couldn't get there.

"Super disappointed," Cleary said. "This is going to hurt for a long time.".

Panthers forward James Fisher-Harris was placed on report for a late hit on Melbourne's Brandon Smith.

The pre-game introduction of players was amazing - the cheers for Penrith players deafening, even for 40,000 people, as were the jeers for Smith. And the noise went to another level when Penrith ran out to AC/DC's Hells Bells.

Unbelievably, the two major football titles now sit just 1.7kms apart. The NRL trophy is at Goschs Paddock - where Melbourne Storm train - while the AFL trophy at Richmond's Punt Road, just down the street.

 

Dale Finucane and Cameron Smith celebrate another premiership.
Dale Finucane and Cameron Smith celebrate another premiership.

 

 

PENALTY TRY DRAMA

 

The NRL grand final started in unique circumstances with the Storm awarded a penalty try in just the third minute.

Penrith's Tyrone May was penalised for attacking the tryscorer, Justin Olam, with his foot.

It was the first penalty try since Jamie Lyon's in the 2013 decider between Manly and the Roosters.

"Tyrone May has used the foot to kick the ball out of the possession of Justin Olam," bunker official Steve Chiddy said.

"In our opinion, we believe a try would have been scored."

 

 

Melbourne's Justin Olam scores a penalty try during the 2020 NRL grand final between the Penrith Panthers and Melbourne Storm at ANZ Stadium. Defender Tyrone May was penalised for attacking with the foot. Picture: Brett Costello
Melbourne's Justin Olam scores a penalty try during the 2020 NRL grand final between the Penrith Panthers and Melbourne Storm at ANZ Stadium. Defender Tyrone May was penalised for attacking with the foot. Picture: Brett Costello

 

Phil Gould in Nine commentary said: "That's incredible. I don't know what Tyrone May could have done any differently there."

"It is not what I would call indiscriminate kicking but the referee ruled he's played at the ball with his foot.

"It is illegal to play at the ball with your foot.

"That is a stunning start to this game. Stunning."

 

 

 

 

Originally published as Panthers' fairytale run ends in chaotic grand final



BREAKING: Teen charged over burglaries, vehicle thefts

Premium Content BREAKING: Teen charged over burglaries, vehicle thefts

The boy was arrested in relation to break-and-enters in the Kin Kora and New...

Gladstone Benaraby Rd cost blow-out denied

Premium Content Gladstone Benaraby Rd cost blow-out denied

During completion of the first package of works, additional safety upgrades were...

Man asleep at the wheel after 20-pint bender

Premium Content Man asleep at the wheel after 20-pint bender

The 41-year-old was found in his car after a Gladstone pub session.