The Penrith Panthers have pulled off the greatest grand final comeback in NRL history, sealing a 26-24 win over Brisbane Broncos in a historic grand final match.
Inspired by their co-captain Nathan Cleary, the Panthers clawed back from 24-8 down after 62 minutes to become the first team in 40 years to win three consecutive premierships since the Parramatta Eels in 1983.
Brisbane’s premiership drought will now stretch into an 18th season.
Nathan Cleary during his post-match interview said, “It doesn’t feel real. It feels like a dream,” he puffs, hands clasped behind his head. “We were down but never out. We keep fighting. That’s the mentality.”
Asked if it was his best ever performance, Cleary demurred, “not a chance! The start of that second half was awful.”
Cleary’s performance at the death will become the stuff of legend, but credit is also due to Samoan stars Steven Crichton, and Moses Leota as well as James Fisher-Harris, who all maintained an incredible unwillingness to accept defeat.
Despite having all the possession and territory in the first half, Penrith only led 8-6 at the break.
It was the Broncos who came out in the second half looking like a side ready to be crowned NRL champions.
Brisbane’s Ezra Mam scored 3 consecutive tries in the first 10 minutes of the second half but his grand final hat-trick would end in losing efforts.
With 17 minutes remaining the Broncos led 24-8 and you could already hear the parties across pubs in Brisbane.
But in the black jersey was the Prince of Penrith and honorary “uso” Nathan Cleary.
Cleary started comeback with a massive fend to the chest of Kurt Capewell. As he broke down the sideline he found Moses Leota to score under the post.
Now down 24-14, immediately on the very next set, the Prince of Penrith was at it again kicking a 40/20.
With his side in prime field possession, the Panthers saw strong carries from Brian To’o and Moses Leota. The ball was swung wide to Stephen Crichton who sliced through to score in the left corner.
As cool as you like, Cleary slots the conversion to bring the Panthers within 4!
Then with just two minutes remaining Nathan Cleary was ready to stamp his name into Grand Final immortality.
He received the ball on the left edge and looked to hit his players out wide. Instead, Cleary hit the Broncos with left foot step after left foot step.
He cruised his way under the post to put the game on ice.
Broncos skipper Adam Reynolds looked shell-shocked at the post-match interview.
“Geez, we let that one slip,” said a dejected veteran. “Credit to Penrith… I’ve got no words.”
Commentators after the match said, “It’s hard to summarize what we’ve just seen!”
Nathan Cleary was awarded his second Clyve Churchill medal. His first was after Penriths grand final victory in 2021.