It was the Grand Final Penrith and Parramatta fans had been both dreaming of and dreading for more than 50 years – the ultimate Battle of the West.
With back-to-back premierships on the line, the Panthers were firm favourites heading into their third consecutive decider.
After losing on the same ground two years earlier to the Storm and winning up in Brisbane the year prior, Penrith were determined to finally give their home fans the end-of-year celebration they thoroughly deserved.
In front of a sold-out crowd at Accor Stadium, the match played out eerily similar to the 2020 decider, but with the roles very much reversed.
This time it was Penrith with the experience, and it showed in an opening half onslaught that saw them lead 18-0 at half-time.
The game was over well before that. By the time Brian To’o scored his first try, seven minutes after Stephen Crichton opened up the scoring, it was obvious nobody was beating the Panthers.
Penrith had been the dominant team in the NRL for three years, but they saved perhaps their best performance of this period for the Grand Final.
With an 86 per cent completion rate, they starved the Eels of the ball and powered over the top of them like it was men against boys.
Much like the Storm did in 2020, Penrith put their foot on the accelerator in the opening stages of the second half, putting any question of an Eels revival to bed.
To’o’s 45th minute try – his second of the evening – came after a Waqa Blake mistake close to his own line. At the end of the ensuing set, Penrith produced a classy left-side move that ended with To’o crashing over out wide.
With time and hope slipping away, Penrith’s 22-0 lead quickly became an unassailable 28-0 when Charlie Staines – in his first Grand Final – found a hole in Parramatta’s defence and cut through to score.
If there was any disappointment for Penrith, it would come in the final five minutes when Clint Gutherson and Jake Arthur bagged tries.
For Penrith, the full-time siren cemented back-to-back titles for the first time in the club’s history.
In the end it wasn’t the Grand Final for the ages many fans were hoping for. The Battle of the West became a one-sided affair that proved just who is the most dominant in this chapter of the long rivalry between the two clubs.
Dylan Edwards was awarded the Clive Churchill Medal for his scintillating performance, while skipper Nathan Cleary accepted the trophy post-match, congratulating Parramatta on their season.
“We look forward to continuing those battles,” he said.
“To the fans… thank you so much. We’re so blessed to represent Penrith and can’t wait to party with you all.”
Nathan Taylor is the Weekender’s Deputy Editor and Senior Sports Writer. He also compiles the weekly Chatter on the Box TV column. Nathan is an award-winning journalist, who has worked at the Weekender for a decade.