The five moments that stole the spotlight as Penrith claim the premiership


In one of the great NRL grand finals in modern history — and most certainly the greatest played in Brisbane — the Panthers held on to beat the Rabbitohs 14-12. 

In a dynamic display of brutal, beautiful footy, the 75 per cent capacity crowd got their money’s worth as Penrith found redemption for their heartbreaking loss to Melbourne in 2020.

From a brutal head-high hit that knocked an Origin star out of the game to a sensational intercept try, these were the five biggest moments of the game.

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Matt Burton scores the opening try of the 2021 NRL grand final.

1. Panthers pounce

As the Bunnies huffed and puffed under intense pressure from the Penrith attack, future Bulldog Matt Burton provided the perfect parting gift to the Panthers.

Typically, it was a play that started with Nathan Cleary passing to Jarome Luai on the final tackle.

With Adam Reynolds getting caught up by the lead runner and Jaxson Paulo only having eyes for Brian To’o, Luai judged the pass perfectly and put Burton through a massive gap to score the opener.

“There was so much pressure put on the South Sydney ruck there,” former Australian representative Luke Lewis said on ABC Grandstand.

“Liam Martin made a beautiful lead, sucking two Souths defenders, and Matt Burton just dived over.

“Put this down to sustained pressure.”

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Viliame Kikau goes in the book for a hit on Jai Arrow

2. Blow and Arrow

With the Panthers up and about following the opening try, the Rabbitohs went on the attack through enforcer Jai Arrow.

Wrapped up in a clean double-team tackle, Arrow was on his way to the ground when he copped Viliame Kikau’s massive bicep to the head.

It was a brutal shot, but seemed to be accidental despite Kikau going on report.

Arrow, for his part, wasn’t overly chuffed with the hit.

“There is plenty being said by Jai Arrow (as he came off the field), he was screaming at Kikau, so keep an eye out when he comes on the field,” Andrew Johns said on the TV coverage.

“I think Kikau was just nodding, saying a prayer for him. Jai Arrow might have been aggressive, but Viliame wasn’t.”

While Arrow left the field as a free interchange, he returned a few minutes later, only to be ruled out of the match in the second half with delayed concussion symptoms.

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Cody Walker scores a spectacular try to bring the Bunnies back into the game.

3. Walker’s on

In a play that took us right back to Stacey Jones in the 2002 decider, Cody Walker put the team on his back to drag the exhausted Rabbitohs back into the game late in the first half.

Getting on the end of an Adam Reynolds pass, Walker burst through a lunging Kurt Capewell and pushed Cleary to the ground like he was back playing in the Harold Matthews Cup.

Accelerating through the gap, he then somehow managed to beat Dylan Edwards at the back and scored a memorable grand final try.

“They were on the ropes,” former league champ John Gibbs said on ABC Grandstand.

“That changes everything, they’re back in the hunt now.

“They’ve been pulverised by the Panthers in the first quarter, but that’s an unbelievable try to score in a grand final.”

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Stephen Crichton scores after intercepting a Cody Walker pass

4. Walker’s off

With the scores tied at eight-all 16 minutes into the second half and both teams showing equal amounts of brilliant moments and crazy mistakes, it was a little bit of column A and a little of column B that turned the game.

The Rabbitohs were on the attack and set to break it open as Cody Walker had a choice of passing to the safe but solid option of Dane Gagai, or the audacious and dangerous option of Alex Johnston.

He went for the latter. It was a mistake.

Panthers speedster Stephen Crichton intercepted the pass, and sprinted for 40m to score what would be the match-winning try.

A little bit of biff in the backfield followed, as Cleary led with his outstanding chin in taking the proverbial out of Walker.

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Adam Reynolds misses a chance for the Rabbitohs to level the score

5. A crucial miss

Following a sensational  Johnston try right next to the post to bring the scores to 14-12, Broncos-bound Rabbitohs star  Reynolds had a chance to tie up the game with a conversion from the sideline.

Battling a sore groin and the mental strain of knowing it would be his final game in the green and red, Reynolds missed ever so slightly right.

“I had a chance in the end there and it just didn’t come up in the end,” Reynolds said after the game.

“You’re expected to nail them.”

The Bunnies veteran then attempted a two-point field goal late in the game, but the kick came up well short as Penrith claimed their first premiership since 2003.


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