Panthers and Storm caught up in ‘embarrassing’ NRL finals crowd scenes

The NRL's decision has drawn plenty of criticism after the scenes in Sydney.

Nathan Cleary runs out and Cleary embraces Cameron Munster in the NRL prelim.
The NRL has copped backlash after Nathan Cleary and the Penrith Panthers played their home preliminary final against the Storm at Accor Stadium in front of just 35,000 fans. (Getty Images)

The NRL's decision for the Penrith Panthers to play their home preliminary final against the Storm at Accor Stadium has backfired, with only 35,000 fans showing up compared to a raucous crowd at the MCG for the AFL's preliminary final. The Panthers showed why they are back-to-back reigning champions of the NRL having dispatched the Storm thanks to a masterclass from Nathan Cleary and the forwards.

And while many are not surprised at the outcome of the 38-4 obliteration, fans have become disillusioned with the NRL's decision to move the game away from Penrith's home ground at BlueBet Stadium. The Panthers fortress only holds a capacity of 22,500 fans and is deemed too small for a preliminary final.

'HIT A NERVE': Cameron Munster in tetchy exchange with Gorden Tallis

STAR SUPPORT: Ivan Cleary development amid Brad Fittler's bid to save job

However, there were huge concerns the Panthers would struggle to even hit half capacity at the 83,000-seat Accor Stadium. To make matters worse, loyal fans became enraged when Accor Stadium members were sent two-for-one tickets deals while others obtained free entry using online codes. Despite their best efforts to get people through the gate the atmosphere fell short.

Aus Stadiums reports a little more than 35,000 fans came to watch the Panthers reach their third straight grand final on Friday night. This is 44 per cent of Accor's capacity. Compare this to the AFL on Friday night and NRL bosses may have a tough discussion in the coming weeks ahead of next year's finals.

Collingwood and GWS played out a dramatic preliminary final at the MCG in front of 97,000 fans with the noise inside the MCG electric. And there is no doubt images of the top tier stands completely empty at the Panthers home game, along with the quieter stadium in comparison to the AFL, drew plenty of criticism from viewers.

Unfortunately for Storm fans and the neutral viewers, the game didn't deliver a thriller with Cleary leading the dominant Panthers to a comfortable thrashing. Penrith coach Ivan Cleary was full of praise for his team with the Panthers one win away of becoming the first team to win three titles in a row since the Eels 40 years ago.

"It's so hard to make any grand final but there are so many people who've had such an input into us," Cleary said. "To be able to go out and deliver that performance, it wasn't all perfect but we worked it out and found a way." The 34-point margin marked the biggest preliminary final win in the NRL era.

Nathan Cleary thanks the fans.
Nathan Cleary (pictured) guided his team to a comfortable victory over the Storm in front of 35,000 fans at Accor Stadium. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

Ivan Cleary's cheeky dig at rival fans

Ahead of the game, Penrith coach Cleary cheekily made a late push to get fans to the game after he urged supporters of other Sydney clubs to get behind his team. "Absolutely. What else would they be doing this weekend?" Cleary answered with a wry grin after being asked if non-Penrith fans should back his side. "Everyone loves the Panthers, don't they?"

Reads 'NRL Finals 2023' with the cut out images of three players throwing a football - Cameron Munster, Nathan Cleary and Reece Walsh, with a backdrop of a football stadium.
Discover more of our NRL Finals coverage.

However, this didn't appear to be the case and with just 35,000 fans showing up to a preliminary final, there is no doubt the NRL will come under fire as the debate to allow preliminary finals game to be played in suburban stadiums continues.

Sign up to our newsletter and score the biggest sport stories of the week.