The Penrith Panthers beat the South Sydney Rabbitohs 14-12 to win the 2021 NRL Premiership title on Sunday, in Brisbane.
Penrith beat South Sydney and win 2021 NRL Premiership title
In winning the 2021 Grand Final, coach Ivan Cleary and his chargers avenged the 2020 loss to the Melbourne Storm. It was a game watched by millions across the globe, in what is close to Australia’s league version of the Super Bowl.
Even though Suncorp Stadium was at 75% capacity [due to pandemic restrictions] you would not have known it. The noise from the Panthers fans was deafening. Both Penrith and Souths are based in Sydney. With borders closed it was perhaps surprising to see so many fans of both teams. Doubts over whether the game would take place behind closed doors, or at all, were thankfully unfounded.
The big personnel questions going in centered about the inclusion of Adam Reynolds for the Rabbitohs, and Dylan Edwards for Penrith. The South Sydney local had maintained he’d always play even if he couldn’t fulfill his kicking duties due to an ongoing groin injury. Edwards had been spotted with a boot on in the run-up to the game and hadn’t trained. Despite the concerns, both played and enjoyed different fortunes on the night.
Penrith 14 South Sydney 12
The match kicked off with a frantic intensity which barely abated throughout the 80 minutes. Tackles flew in and Penrith held the upper hand thanks to the pristine kicking game of Nathan Cleary. The Panthers’ co-captain forced five goal-line dropouts on the night. It wasn’t long until the pressure told. Penrith’s left edge has been lethal thanks to breakout seasons for Matt Burton and Brian To’o. Burton is bulldogs bound next year, and it was he who exploited a gap in the defensive line and went over.
PANTHERS SWITCH IT ON 🔥
— NRL (@NRL) October 3, 2021
Almost immediately after, Dally M nominated Cody Walker bounced off of Cleary and equalized the scores. A Cleary penalty followed by a Reynolds penalty had the scores level at 8-8 until after the hour mark.
Walker has had an unbelievable season. However, it may be remembered for the wrong reasons. His 66th-minute intercept pass sent Stephen Crichton racing away, 14-8 Panthers. South Sydney pressed for a try, and once again did not have to wait long. Nobody has scored as many tries in an NRL season as Alex Johnstone, and Sunday was his 30th of the year. It gave Reynolds the chance to level the scores at 14-14, but he put the kick wide of the uprights.
As the clock ticked down there was time for one more attacking set for Souths. Reynolds set up for a two-point field goal, but his kick didn’t have the distance. The Wayne Bennett-coached side had tried valiantly, yet it fell short at the last hurdle, and Penrith were crowned NRL Premiers.
Rugby league Grand Final aftermath
Reynolds is headed to the Brisbane Broncos next year and was distraught after the game, “Obviously, had a chance at the end there. Just didn’t come up with the result in the end. Expected to nail them but just missed.” For him, coach Wayne Bennett, and Benji Marshall, it was their final games at Souths, but not the fairytale ending that they’d hoped for.
For Penrith, it was redemption for last year’s grand final defeat to Melbourne. This was just their third NRL Premiership, after 1991 and 2003. Panthers legend Greg Alexander struggled to hold back the tears on Fox League after the game. Coach Ivan Cleary had reached the grand final twice before, and finally has a victory to his name.
Cleary Jnr, Nathan very deservedly won the Clive Churchill medal for ‘Man of the Match’.
Nathan Cleary and Ivan Cleary are aiming to become the second father-son duo to win a Premiership…
— NRL (@NRL) October 3, 2021
In his post-match concession speech, Adam Reynolds summed up the thoughts of most neutral NRL fans. “To Ivan (Cleary) and Penrith, congratulations…you have been the best team probably for the last two years and well deserved tonight.”
Penrith and South Sydney are in very different places following the Grand Final. It is a reset for the Rabbitohs with their leading points scorer and super coach both leaving. Penrith has a young team who now has Premiership winning experience. It remains to be seen if the hunger and desire will be as strong but as a group, they are primed to hang around at the top of the ladder for a long time to come.
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