Penrith have upset Melbourne to qualify for their second consecutive Grand Final and be given the opportunity to exorcise the demons of 2020.
In a heartstopping affair, Penrith took a 6-0 lead into half-time and withstood a late tirade to win 10-6 and book a date with South Sydney next weekend.
It was again Penrith’s defence that stood up, conceding just one try for the second straight week.
Jarome Luai produced his best game since State of Origin while Scott Sorensen and Kurt Capewell were brilliant for the Panthers.
Nathan Cleary has a nervous wait after being put on report for a dangerous tackle in the first half but replays suggest he should be safe to play.
It was Cleary’s vision that got Penrith on the board early, a perfectly placed kick to an unmarked Stephen Crichton opening the scoring in just the third minute.
Brian To’o scored early in the second half to open up a 10-0 lead, but the Storm were never dead and buried. When Ryan Papenhuyzen scored in the 62nd minute, the game became an arm wrestle to the final siren.
In the end Penrith’s competition-best defence withstood the Storm’s efforts, including a set right on the line in the final minutes after a Capewell dropped ball.
Panthers coach Ivan Cleary said he was incredibly proud of the side’s defensive resolve.
“Another absorbing game but obviously to get into another Grand Final… it’s so hard to get there and there’s so much that goes into it. I’m super proud of the boys today, they were super courageous,” he said.
“It’s a great achievement we know the pain of losing… we’re looking forward to putting in another great performance next week.”
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor and Senior Writer. He has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia’s leading media organisations.