Reece Walsh 'found out' in brutal moment for Nathan Cleary's grand final match-winner

Johnathan Thurston has highlighted the Broncos fullback's failure to slide across and shut down the match-defining play.

Reece Walsh, pictured here during Nathan Cleary's match-winning try in the NRL grand final.
Reece Walsh failed to slide across and shut down Nathan Cleary's match-winning try in the NRL grand final. Image: Getty/Channel 9

Johnathan Thurston has highlighted the brutal moment Reece Walsh failed to "fill the space" and allowed Nathan Cleary to score the match-winning try in the NRL grand final. With the Panthers down 24-8 with 15 minutes to play, Cleary produced an absolute masterclass to lead his side to an incredible 26-24 win.

The halfback sliced through the Broncos' line to set up a try for Moses Leota, before laying on the final pass for Stephen Crichton to score in the corner. And in what is the crowning moment of his career so far, Cleary scored the match-winning try with just two minutes remaining to seal the biggest comeback in grand final history.

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With the Panthers camped on the Broncos' line, Cleary got the ball at first receiver on the blind side before stepping back off his left foot. He sliced past Adam Reynolds and Billy Walters and into a yawning hole to break the Broncos' hearts.

While Cleary's match-winner lit up the NRL world, some have pointed out that Walsh was way out of position and didn't slide across in time. Dissecting the match-winning try on Channel 9 after the game, Thurston pointed out that Walsh didn't "fill the space" created when his teammates slid to their right.

The fullback appeared to be ball-watching and allowed himself to stop moving, rather than keeping his feet going and moving across to plug the gap. While there's no denying the 21-year-old had a sensational season, the fullback had a grand final to forget.

Nathan Cleary, pictured here after running past Reece Walsh to score the match-winning try in the NRL grand final.
Nathan Cleary left Reece Walsh in his dust as the scored the match-winning try in the NRL grand final. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Apart from a scintillating line-break to set up Ezra Mam's third try in the second half, Walsh had one of his more underwhelming games in the last few months. Walsh was limping early in the match and wasn't able to influence the game like he has done so often.

The 21-year-old knocked on and was dragged into his in-goal after running sideways, while also giving the Panthers a seven-tackle set after kicking the ball dead. He had just six runs for 32 metres in the first half, and despite being better in the second, he was found out a number of times in defence.

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NRL fans call out Reece Walsh over grand final performance

One fan wrote on social media: "No shortage of blame goes to Reece Walsh on that last try. He was ball watching instead of tying under and left a massive hole for Nathan Cleary to waltz on through."

Another commented: "Reece Walsh went missing in the first half, had a couple of good moments in the second and was out of position all game. Wonder Boy got found out and Nathan Cleary is the Clive Churchill medal winner."

While a third wrote: "I was fully at attention when I saw Walsh out of position for that last try. Cleary masterclass and Walsh disaster class in one match."

Panthers cement legacy with three-consecutive premierships

The win surpassed Melbourne's comeback from 14 points down against St George Illawarra in the 1999 grand final as the biggest-ever in a decider. It also staked Penrith's claim as one of rugby league's greatest-ever sides after they became the eighth team in history to win three straight premierships - and the first since Parramatta in 1983.

"There was that great Parramatta side, but that wasn't the NRL-era either," coach Ivan Cleary said. "But things were different, it was just pretty much the Sydney comp back then. And I say that without trying to take anything away from what they did.

"We're not here to try and explain where we sit in history. I think we will be able to reflect in the next few days, it's a pretty remarkable achievement. It's totally surreal. I don't know how to explain it."

with AAP

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