A three-peat must start with the first, and as Penrith prepare for a slice of history at Accor Stadium on Sunday night, it’s intriguing to remember that this incredible Premiership run started in – of all places – Queensland.
The NRL relocated all of its teams to the sunshine state mid-way through the 2021 season after COVID-19 wreaked havoc through New South Wales, forcing the state into its second lockdown.
Penrith powered their way through the remainder of the season, quickly grabbing Premiership favouritism before a stunning surprise in the first week of the Finals changed everything.
The Panthers faced the Rabbitohs in the Qualifying Final at Queensland Country Bank Stadium in Townsville, and all was going to plan early when Stephen Crichton scored the opening try.
But Souths worked their way into the game, crossing through Cody Walker in the first half and Jaxson Paulo in the second to set up a 16-10 win – on a night where five penalty goals were kicked between the two sides.
The loss put Penrith into dangerous territory – with some experts labelling them ‘done’ – as they started a mission to go the ‘long way around’ and try to make the Grand Final from the other side of the draw.
It was off to BB Print Stadium in Mackay for a Semi Final showdown with Parramatta – and showdown is putting it lightly. In one of the most tightly contested Finals you could imagine, Penrith emerged 8-6 winners after a scoreless second half. The Panthers’ defensive performance was something special, and would ultimately be part of what defined the side’s run to the Premiership.
A Preliminary Final clash with now competition favourites Melbourne was next – and again it was a tightly contested affair, that had fans back in Penrith on the edge of their seats.
Crichton bagged an early try thanks to a sneaky kick from Nathan Cleary to the right wing, but it wouldn’t be until Brian To’o scored in the 42nd minute that the scoreboard attendant would be troubled again.
Ryan Papenhuyzen finally scored for Melbourne in the 62nd minute, with the final 18 minutes becoming a warrior-like defensive performance from the Panthers to hold on for a 10-6 win, and qualify for the 2021 Grand Final.
It was on to the decider – the Panthers and Rabbitohs in the first NRL Grand Final to be played at Suncorp Stadium in history.
A Crichton intercept 14 minutes from full-time will forever be remembered as the moment that decided the Grand Final and secured Penrith’s third Premiership.
The Panthers won 14-12 but not before a late scare with South Sydney halfback Adam Reynolds missing a sideline conversion four minutes from full-time that would have levelled the scores.
It was a Grand Final for the ages.
After a bruising opening period, Penrith were first to score when Matt Burton found space in the 16th minute.
The Rabbitohs hit back to level the scores soon after when Cody Walker produced some of his trademark solo brilliance just four minutes later.
The Panthers took an 8-6 lead into the break when Cleary kicked a penalty goal in the 32nd minute.
Souths came out strong in the second half and were unlucky not to find the tryline, but did manage to level the scores through a penalty goal just four minutes into the period.
The Rabbitohs looked like they were about to create something down their left side when the game took a dramatic twist – Crichton intercepting a wayward Walker pass to race into Grand Final immortality.
Alex Johnston scored with just six minutes to go but Reynolds couldn’t land the conversion, leaving Penrith 14-12 up.
There were incredible scenes of emotion at full-time as the Panthers celebrated a hard fought victory over a newfound arch rival.
Nathan Cleary was awarded the Clive Churchill Medal.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor and Breaking News Reporter. He has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia’s leading media organisations. In 2023, he was named Editor of the Year at the Mumbrella Publish Awards.