The Penrith Panthers are the toast of western Sydney by winning their third premiership in a nail-biting NRL grand final at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium.
The Panthers hung on to win 14-12 against a brave South Sydney Rabbitohs who fought until the dying stages.
The NRL decider was played outside Sydney for the first time due to coronavirus, forcing thousands of fans to watch at home.
The Panthers led 8-6 at half-time after enjoying 60 per cent of possession, the 21st time this season they’ve been in front at the break.
They looked like they’d sealed the game with 13 minutes to go when winger Stephen Crichton pounced on a Souths intercept to score.
The Bunnies hit back with a try but missed the kick from the sideline before halfback Adam Reynolds’ unsuccessful attempt at a two point field goal with a minute to go sealed a Panthers victory.
As Panthers players embraced, winger Brian To’o rushed to the stands to propose to his long-time partner Moesha.
Two pre-match controversies threatened to overshadow what was a historic night for the NRL.
The pre-match entertainment line-up of DJs The Stafford Brothers, Kate Miller-Heidke and Aussie rock icon Ian Moss divided viewers online.
Some branded the pre-match show ’embarrassing’ while others went as far as describing it worse than Meatloaf’s infamous performance at the 2011 AFL grand final.
Minutes later, Queensland rugby league legend Johnathan Thurston was in the midst of delivering the moving acknowledgement of Australia’s traditional land owners when he was awkwardly cut off by the playing of the national anthem, which was sung by Miller-Heidke.
Penrith Panthers coach Ivan Cleary embraces son and Clive Churchill medal winner Nathan moments after an epic grand final
The pre-match performance featuring Australian singer Kate Miller-Heidke and rock icon Ian Moss (pictured) divided television viewers
Panthers centre Matt Burton was the first to find the try-line in the 18th minute after back-to-back sets before halfback Nathan Cleary converted to give Penrith an early 6-0 lead.
Rabbitohs hit back minutes later with playmaker Cody Walker scoring under the under the posts.
The try was converted to level the scores before Panthers regained the lead with a penalty goal to lead 8-6 at half-time.
It’s the 21st time this season the Panthers have enjoyed a half-time lead and are yet to let that lead slip through their fingers in 2021.
‘The Rabbitohs are out on their feet. They have done really well to hang in here,’ Channel Nine commentator Phil Gould told viewers.
The Panthers enjoyed almost 60 per cent of possession in the first half.
‘It was a grinding game and I thought we dominated field position really well,’ co-captain Nathan Cleary told Channel Nine.
When asked about his message to the side he replied: ‘Stay on process and focus. It is easy to look ahead in the Grand Final, but just take it one step and one play at a time.’
A penalty allowed Souths to draw level again fine minutes into the second half.
The Panthers thought they’d reclaimed the lead minutes later through Viliame Kikau before the try was disallowed due to a forward pass.
A sell-out crowd 39,000 footy fans packed Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium after 13,000 ticket-holders were locked out earlier in the week due to the Queensland’s latest Covid-19 outbreak.
Panthers centre Matt Burton scored the first try in the 2021 NRL grand final, the first one being played outside Sydney
Jarome Luai celebrated with Panthers teammate Matt Burton after Penrith hit the front in the 18th minute
There is plenty of support for both Sydney clubs in the stands as thousands of footy fans donning team jerseys, flags, face masks and banners arrived in their droves.
Many took advantage of a pop up clinic set up outside the ground to help boost the state’s lagging vaccination rates.
The pre-match entertainment line-up The Stafford Brothers, Kate Miller-Heidke and Aussie rock icon Ian Moss divided social media.
The Rabbitohs kicked off after the Panthers won toss and elected to run towards the northern end of Suncorp Stadium in the first half.
South Sydney hit back minutes later with a try to five-eighth Cody Walker (pictured celebrating with teammates)
South Sydney Rabbitohs only trailed by two points at half-time, despite Penrith having 60 per cent of possession
Country music singer Missy Lancaster has jumped on the South bandwagon and hopes to be toasting a 22nd premiership later on Sunday night
Damien Cook is tackled during the 2021 NRL Grand Final between the Penrith Panthers and the South Sydney Rabbitohs
Fans have already arrived at Suncorp Stadium for Sunday night’s NRL grand final
Club mascots Paws and Reggie Rabbit briefly put their fierce rivalry aside to pose for photos together and mingle with fans
Queensland rugby league supporters arrived at Suncorp Stadium in good spirits, despite going for rival clubs
Penrith Panthers fans show their support before the 2021 NRL Grand Final match at Suncorp Stadium
This Penrith Panthers supporter enjoyed a pre-match refreshment prior to grand final kick off
Players from both clubs arrived at the stadium 90 minutes prior to kick off.
Earlier in the day, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk confirmed she’ll attend and issued a warning to other footy fans amid concerns of an outbreak.
‘As long as there are no issues that arise this afternoon it’s my intention to attend,’ she told reporters on Sunday.
‘Can I say to people who are attending, you have to check into the stadium, you have to wear your mask in there and you can only remove your mask when you are seated if you are eating or drinking.
‘That doesn’t mean sitting there with a beer and having the mask, only when you are drinking.’
There was plenty of support for the Penrith Panthers north of the border, despite the grand final not being played in Sydney
This South Sydney fan decked out in Rabbitohs colours had a message for her mum
39,000 fans at Suncorp Stadium were lucky to snare tickets to the first NRL decider played outside of Sydney
Penrith Panthers fans Ru and Caitlin (right) will be cheering on their team back home in western Sydney
Henry the labradoodle is cheering for the South Sydney Rabbitohs from home
One Panthers fan is watching the grand final back home in Sydney with some homemade sweet treats made for the occasion
Many footy fans in Brisbane enjoyed a pre-match drink or two before heading to the game
Face masks are a must-have accessory for the 39,000 fans attending the grand final at Suncorp Stadium
Penrith Panthers fan Shane Binns took advantage of a pop up vaccination clinic set up outside Suncorp Stadium
Back home in Sydney, thousands of Rabbitohs and Panthers fans are proudly donning their club jerseys and decked out their homes in team colours.
One Panthers fan had their western Sydney backyard transformed into a footy field.
But grand final celebrations will be low key with Sydneysiders holed up in three months of lockdown under stay at home orders for another week.
The Panthers go into the grand final as hot favourites, despite losing to Souths three weeks ago in week one of the final.
Rabbitohs stars Adam Reynolds, Dane Gagai and Benji Marshall hope to finish their stints at the club on the high, while departing coach Wayne Bennett hopes to leave with a 10th premiership.
The Panthers hope to win their third premiership after previous success in 1991 and 2003.
The Rabbitohs are eyeing off their 22nd title, the last being in 2014.
These Rabbitohs supporters hope to be singing Glory Glory to South Sydney later on Sunday night
South Sydney supporters turned parts of Suncorp Stadium into a sea of red and green
This Penrith Panthers fan at Suncorp Stadium pledged her support for halfback Nathan Cleary
This Rabbitohs fan had a message for departing Rabbitoh figures Adam Reynolds, Dane Gagai, Benji Marshall and coach Wayne Bennett