Penrith has qualified for their first Grand Final since 2003 on the back of a record-breaking season. Here’s how it unfolded:
Round 1: Comeback win over the champs
The Panthers survive a strong first half from the Sydney Roosters, bouncing back from 12-0 down to win 20-14 at Panthers Stadium. Brent Naden, Stephen Crichton and Viliame Kikau score tries in the win.
Round 2: Points aplenty at Kogarah
The NRL goes behind closed doors due to COVID-19, and it’s a point-scoring avalanche at Kogarah Oval. The Dragons take a 16-12 lead into half-time, but Penrith does enough in the second half to win 32-28.
march 23: nrl season dramatically stops as the coronavirus pandemic shuts down the country
Round 3: Points shared after lockdown
Rugby league returns from shutdown and the Panthers and Knights play out a 14-all draw at Penrith’s temporary home of Campbelltown Stadium. Matt Burton misses five shots at field goal in the extra time thriller.
Round 4: Warriors fail to score a point
Matt Burton scores two tries in the first 25 minutes to kickstart a shutout out of the Warriors at Campbelltown Stadium. The Panthers lead 16-0 at half-time and go on to win 26-0 in front of an empty stadium.
Round 5: A fall before the run
Penrith lose their only game of the season, going down 16-10 to Parramatta. The Panthers have control of the match until a horror 10 minutes in the second half, where the Eels score three tries to take the lead.
Round 6: Record-breaking dominance begins
Penrith start what would become a 16 match winning streak with a 21-14 win over Melbourne. A 76th minute field goal from a calm Nathan Cleary ices a rare win over Craig Bellamy’s side.
Round 7: From hospital to match winner
Nathan Cleary rises from his hospital bed after a cellulitis battle to help Penrith to a 20-12 win over Souths at yet another home ground, Kogarah Oval. The Panthers took an 8-0 lead into half-time.
Round 8: Panthers roar home over Tigers
Stephen Crichton scores in the opening minutes to give Penrith the strongest possible start against Wests Tigers. The Panthers ultimately win the ferocious contest 19-12, coming from 10-6 down at the break.
july 6: brian to’o ruled out for two months with an ankle injury
Round 9: The Staines show
Charlie Staines scores four tries on debut as the Panthers demolish Cronulla 56-24 at Kogarah Oval. It’s a strong win, but question marks emerge over Penrith’s defence after conceding four tries.
Round 10: Fans return, Penrith win again
Crowds return to Panthers Stadium and Penrith delivers for the fans, recording a scrappy 22-10 win over North Queensland. A late Nathan Cleary try out wide seals the win against a plucky Cowboys side.
Round 11: Mission accomplished on the Gold Coast
Josh Mansour, Stephen Crichton, Issah Yeo and Malakai Watene-Zelezniak score tries as Penrith travels to the Gold Coast and records a determined 22-14 win over the Titans. Gold Coast fails to score in the second half.
Round 12: Seventh heaven
Penrith produces a seventh straight win in impressive fashion, decimating Manly 42-12 at Lottoland. Charlie Staines continues his stunning rookie form, bagging two tries in the big win.
Round 13: Raiders blown away early
Penrith rush to a 24-0 half-time lead over Canberra, but can’t cross the line in the second half. Two Nathan Cleary penalty goals helps Penrith home 28-12 in front of a small crowd at Panthers Stadium.
AUGUST 10: NRL FINES IVAN CLEARY OVER POST-MATCH PRESS CONFERENCE COMMENTS
Round 14: History in the making
History is created in Gosford with Penrith winning a club record ninth straight game, holding on in wet conditions to beat the Warriors 18-12. Brent Naden, Api Koroisau and Dylan Edwards score tries.
Round 15: Sharks brushed aside… again
For the second time in the season, Cronulla are no match for the Panthers. Viliame Kikau scores in the third minute to set up a comprehensive 38-12 victory. The Panthers took a 22-6 lead into half-time.
Round 16: Panthers cruise past Tigers
Wests Tigers shock Penrith with an early try, but the scoring ends there. The Panthers click into gear to open up a 14-6 half-time lead, before going on with the job in the second half to win 30-6.
Round 17: Hit and run mission at Suncorp
Ivan Cleary’s side records an incredible 12th straight win, beating Brisbane 25-12 at Suncorp Stadium. The Broncos score first but Penrith wrestle back to the momentum to score the next three tries.
Round 18: Eels put away by dominant Panthers
The Panthers warm up for the Finals with an impressive 20-2 victory over Parramatta at Panthers Stadium. A tight first half explodes to life when Josh Mansour scores just before the break.
Round 19: Cowboys no match for record run
The Panthers head to Townsville and are switched on from the start, scoring three tries in the opening 15 minutes. They take a 20-0 lead into half-time and eventually win 32-12, sealing the minor premiership.
september 23: panthers call in lawyers as nasty online rumours threaten to derail the club’s finals campaign
Round 20: Incredible regular season ends
Penrith sound a final warning siren to the rest of the competition, delivering a 42-0 thumping of Canterbury at ANZ Stadium. The Panthers are presented with the J.J. Giltinan Shield after the match.
Finals Week 1: Famous win sends hearts racing
The Panthers go down early against the defending Premiers, but quickly wrestle back the ascendancy with a Josh Mansour try, followed by a first half hat-trick from Nathan Cleary. The Roosters keep coming, but the Panthers earn a week off with a thrilling 29-28 victory.
october 6: viliame kikau suspended for a dangerous throw, out of the prelim final
Finals Week 2: Prelim goes down to the wire
The Panthers bring an end to the Rabbitohs’ strong Finals run with a thrilling 20-16 Preliminary Final victory at ANZ Stadium, extending their winning streak to 17. The Panthers were shaky, but held their nerve to produce a memorable win and qualify for the Grand Final.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor and Senior Writer. He has more than 15 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia’s leading media organisations.