The Melbourne Storm have cemented their status as one of the greatest teams of the 21st century after beating Penrith in a thrilling NRL grand final.
The Storm held off a spirited late fightback from Penrith to seal a 26-20 win in the decider at a rain-soaked ANZ Stadium in Sydney on Sunday night.
'TERRIBLE': NRL fans fume over 'questionable' Bunker drama
Victory is the Storm's third NRL premiership in the last decade, in what could be legendary captain Cameron Smith's final game.
The win also sees Craig Bellamy, 61, become the oldest coach in NRL history to win a premiership - his sixth during his time at the club, despite two being stripped for salary cap breaches in 2007 and 2009.
Melbourne got off to a flying start in the grand final against the Panthers, with two big calls going their way early on.
The Storm were awarded a penalty try in just the fourth minute, despite the on-field referees ruling that Justin Olam had knocked on diving for the try line.
However, replays showed Penrith defender Tyrone May used his outstretched leg to knock the ball loose.
The illegal act was correctly ruled a penalty try by the Bunker, which also denied the Panthers a try moments later because of obstruction.
Melbourne's Suliasi Vunivalu - playing his final match before switching to rugby union - scored a superb solo try from his own half after defusing a Panthers high ball and running the length of the field.
It was Smith's own try just before halftime that sent fans into a frenzy, with the Storm skipper capitalising on a strip from Apisai Koroisau right near Penrith's try line.
The veteran hooker regathered the ball, spotted the slightest gap and scurried over for a fairytale grand final try.
He converted his own four-pointer to give the Storm a formidable 22-0 lead at halftime.
Ryan Papenhuyzen capped off a fine individual performance with a runaway try to push the Storm's lead even further out, before the Panthers staged a late comeback.
Brian To'o finally gave Penrith something to cheer about with a first try on 52 minutes before Stephen Crichton set up a gripping finish with a second four-pointer to the Panthers with just over ten minutes to go.
Melbourne were then reduced to 12 men for the final nine minutes of the match when halfback Jahrome Hughes was sin-binned for taking out Viliame Kikau.
The Storm's once formidable lead was reduced to just 10 moments later when Penrith winger Josh Mansour scurried over for a try in the corner.
Cleary then skipped through the line in the dying seconds, just after Brandon Smith was also walked from the field.
However, it was too little too late, condemning the Panthers to just their second loss of the year and with little reward for one of the finest seasons in memory.
Tremendous finish to #NRLGF #Storm finished with 11 men and held on for 26-20 win over luckless #Panthers. Up 22-0 at HT Penrith outscored the GF masters 20-4 2nd half and gave it everything in those final frenetic minutes. Storm's relief and joy told the story #NRLPanthersStorm
— Robert Smith (@OnyaDon) October 25, 2020
— CowboyKate (@KateKatecornish) October 25, 2020
— Michael Carbone (@chasingroospod) October 25, 2020
Storm fullback claims Clive Churchill Medal
Papenhuyzen was rewarded for his outstanding performance by being named the Clive Churchill Medallist as the grand final's player of the match.
The Melbourne fullback’s scintillating second-half try from inside his own quarter, was coupled with a game-high 187 running metres and two tackle breaks.
The 22-year-old looks set to be rewarded with selection in Brad Fittler's NSW State of Origin squad, with the Blues coach making the admission during Channel Nine’s broadcast.
Melbourne's victory is all the more remarkable considering the challenges they've faced living outside of Victoria because of the state's coronavirus situation.
The players haven't slept in their own beds since June, having been forced into camp firstly in Sydney before settling on the Sunshine Coast due to the COVID-19 outbreak in Melbourne.
It's also their first premiership without all of the big three on the park, with Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk's exit originally expected to spell their demise.
— NRL on Nine (@NRLonNine) October 25, 2020
"With the conditions that we've been under, I think it's a remarkable effort to be here tonight and get a victory," Smith said.
"We haven't been home for about five months.
"We did it the hard way with 11 men in the end. Penrith were coming home with a wet sail."
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