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Panthers masterclass delivers back-to-back premierships

The Penrith Panthers have converted three years of dominance into back-to-back premierships with a clinical 28-12 dismantling of Parramatta in Sunday night's NRL Grand Final.

With Clive Churchill Medalist Dylan Edwards (281 metres), Brian To'o (299 metres) and Nathan Cleary delivering command performances on the game's biggest stage, the Panthers became the first team since the Roosters in 2018-19 to win consecutive premierships.

In front of 82,415 fans at Accor Stadium the Panthers scored five tries to two to secure the club's fourth premiership to go with the 1991, 2003 and 2021 trophies.

After a physical opening the Eels tried an early trick shot when Dylan Brown kicked ahead early in the tackle count for Mitch Moses to chase in the eighth minute but To'o covered up well.

Four minutes later it was the Panthers who struck first through centre Stephen Crichton, who took an inside pass from Edwards 25 metres out and turned on the jets to score despite the last-ditch effort of Reed Mahoney and Reagan Campbell-Gillard.

Crichton splits them to open the scoring

Winger To'o then finished off a slick left side in the 18th minute as the Panthers stretched their lead to 10-0.

With the Eels looking rattled, skipper Clint Gutherson put a short dropout out on the full and Cleary kicked the penalty goal for 12-0.

Relentless pressure from the premiers came up trumps in the 28th minute when Cleary put in a pinpoint grubber for Scott Sorensen to score just his second try of the season. Cleary converted and the Panthers were rocking at 18-0.

Super-sub Sorensen scores

Two minutes before the break Viliame Kikau went within a whisker of scoring Penrith's fourth when he chased a Jarome Luai grubber but Waqa Blake came up with a trysaving play when he knocked the ball dead.

A penalty against Ryan Matterson for a crusher tackle in the opening minute of the second half put the Eels on the back foot before a dropped ball by Blake compounded their woes and To'o capitalised with his second try of the night to make it 22-0.

Some slick ball movement by the Eels looked to have opened the door for Maika Sivo to grab their first try of the decider but a last-ditch tackle by Crichton denied the Fijian flyer.

A clever cross field kick by Mahoney opened the door for Bailey Simonsson to race into the back field in the 58th minute but the Eels centre was cut down by Dylan Edwards in a classic cover tackle.

Charlie Staines then finished off great lead-up work by Isaah Yeo, Cleary and Edwards to score and Cleary's conversion made it 28-0.

Staines shoots and scores

Cleary went within inches of a try in the 69th minute but lost the ball just short as the Eels clung on grimly despite the scoreline against them.

Eels skipper Gutherson was rewarded for a couraegous effort when he grabbed a consolation try in the 77th minute and Jake Arthur also crossed late but the night belonged to the Panthers.

The Panthers have become the first team in history to win the Jersey Flegg, SG Ball, reserve grade (NSW Cup) and first grade premierships in the one season, confirming their status as the modern masters of rugby league.

Match Snapshot

  • The first penalty of the night came in the eighth minute against the Panthers for interference in the play the ball.
  • Star hooker Api Koroisau was injected into the game from the bench in the 17th minute and immediately had a hand in Brian To'o's try.
  • The Panthers dominated possession in the first half with 60 per cent to the Eels' 40 per cent.
  • Nathan Brown was thrown into the game by Eels coach Brad Arthur after 31 minutes replacing Reagan Campbell-Gillard.
  • Panthers winger Brian To'o had 15 runs for 177 metres in the opening half and went on to make a staggering 299 metres for the game. 
  • Bailey Simonnson tried hard all night for the Eels with 153 metres from 16 runs, as did Reed Mahoney (56 tackles) and Isaiah Papali'i (49 tackles).

To'o grabs two

  • Ivan Cleary coached his 200th game for the Panthers in Sunday’s grand final. His record stands at 122 wins, 77 losses and one draw. Cleary has coached the most games of any Penrith coach.
  • Bailey Simonsson (Raiders, 2019) and Ryan Matterson (Roosters, 2018) were the only Eels players to have previously played in a grand final.
  • Spencer Leniu was dynamic off the bench again for the Panthers with 104 run metres from nine runs in 21 minutes of game time.
  • Panthers centre Izack Tago left the field in the 52nd minute for a HIA after a head clash with Reed Mahoney. He passed and was able to return.
  • James Fisher-Harris was immense up front for the premiers with 201 metres from 20 runs.
  • Eels centre Bailey Simonsson was forced off in the 58th minute with a shoulder injury.
  • Jake Arthur took the field with five minutes to play off the Eels bench and grabbed a late try.

Gutherson gets a well deserved try

Play of the Game

Move over, Scott Sattler, and make room for Dylan Edwards in the Grand Final Cover Tackle Hall of Fame. With the Eels desperately seeking their first try after 58 minutes it was Bailey Simonnson who raced away down the left side, skipping clear of a Charlie Staines tackle before Edwards hit top speed and launched himself in a copybook tackle that must have had Sattler up and out of his seat. Some 19 years after Sattler's tackle on Todd Byrne, the Panthers' brilliant No.1 evoked memories of that magic moment with his classic trysaver.

Edwards channels Sattler with sublime cover tackle

What They Said

“Look they’re a very good team and they played very well. That first half they just played too fast for us. We’re disappointed but I just said to the boys right now isn’t the time to review or dissect that, we were just beaten by a better team and they were too good for us tonight. At the end of the day, we’ve got 80 minutes of a lifetime and we can’t be looking for excuses, we were just beaten by a better team. It’s a tough road to get here and maybe the tough road took its toll on us but it’s a big achievement. I just want to focus on how proud I am of the guys as individuals and as men.” – Eels coach Brad Arthur

Eels: Grand Final

“They’re a quality team and when you give them that much ball on your line, it just felt like they were kicking them anywhere. They’re a great team and they made us pay, it probably could have been more but we just kept turning up. It’s disappointing but someone’s got to lose and unfortunately, it was us.” – Eels captain Clint Gutherson

“It’s hard to put it into words but it’s definitely been an emotional 24 hours. I got a bit emotional yesterday, I don’t even know why, I think it’s just because this team won’t stay together. We’ve done so well for so long and I thought anyone can win on the day and anyone can win any game. I just wanted it to go well on the biggest night and I honestly couldn’t ask for anything more. The boys were unbelievable. That first half was honestly just a dream come true. I sat back and watched the boys go to work. Over the last couple of years in the grand finals we’ve played in I think we’ve learnt a fair bit so we put that to good use. I’m certainly blessed to be their coach.” – Panthers coach Ivan Cleary

Panthers: Grand Final

“I thought that first half was probably the best 40 minutes we’ve put together almost over that three-year period [2020-22]. Just in terms of what we wanted to do. It was very nice to play the way we wanted to on the biggest stage. We’ve worked hard for that, not only physically but mentally and it came through on the day.” – Panthers captain Nathan Cleary

What's Next

A well earned rest for a number of players while others will head to the World Cup with their respective nations to chase glory on the international stage.

Acknowledgement of Country

Parramatta Eels respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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