Penrith are NRL champions for the first time since 2003 after an iconic grand final that was absolute heartbreak for the South Sydney Rabbitohs and halfback Adam Reynolds.
Reynolds had a late conversion attempt from the sideline to tie the game up with time running out, but his kick sailed wide — triggering the Panthers’ celebrations a few minutes later.
It was euphoria for the Panthers at fulltime as they erased their own heartbreak from 12 months ago when they lost the decider to Melbourne.
It was an absolute thriller.
A Nathan Cleary penalty goal was the only thing that separated the two teams as they headed into the dressing rooms with the score 8-6 after an explosive first half.
The Rabbitohs then tied it up at 8-8 with a controversial penalty goal that left the scores locked with 15 minutes to play.
It was only late that the critical moment of the contest arrived when Stephen Crichton scored from an intercept pass that appeared to break South Sydney’s backs as they watched the Panthers take a 14-8 lead with 10 minutes to play.
But there was drama late when South Sydney came back from the dead to score to set up a grandstand finish in the dying moments.
Alex Johnston scored in the corner but Reynolds couldn’t nail the conversion from out wide, leaving the Bunnies two points adrift.
The Souths halfback has played for the Rabbitohs for his entire career but Sunday night marked his final game for the club, as he heads to Brisbane next season.
Penrith held on to win the epic contest.
Reynolds was devastated when interviewed after the game.
He said during his concession speech: “To Wayne [Bennett] and the coaching staff and the players, keep your head held high lads.
“Sorry we couldn’t get the job done tonight. Gave it our all. I love every one of you. Lastly, to all our fans and our members, I love you guys from the bottom of my heart. It has been one hell of a journey. Sorry we couldn’t get the result done tonight. No doubt the boys will be back fighting next year.”
It was the opposite for Penrith’s No 7 with Cleary awarded the Clive Churchill Medal as the best player in the grand final. He couldn’t wipe the smile off his face when interviewed after the game.
“It honestly feels like a dream,” he said.
“We have been working so long to get to this moment. Everyone back in Penrith it is for you guys and I can’t wait to party when we get back. We did it.”
Cleary and his dad Ivan have become the first father-son combination since John Lang and Martin Lang won a premiership with Penrith in 2003.
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