Storm hold off Panthers
The Melbourne Storm are premiers for the 2020 season, seeing off a fast finishing Penrith Panthers to win 26-20 at ANZ Stadium on Sunday night.
The Storm led 22-0 at half time and opened the try scoring after the major break, but the Panthers came charging home to give themselves a fighting chance of victory in the dying moments, Craig Bellamy's side finishing with just eleven men with Jahrome Hughes and Brandon Smith sent off in the final ten minutes.
The Panthers rallied in the second half after a controversial try was awarded to Brian To'o despite there appearing to be a clear instance of obstruction in the build up.
Two more tries followed for the Panthers, the second after the Storm were reduced to 12 men when Hughes was sent off for a professional foul.
Storm full-back Ryan Papenhuyzen won the Clive Chuchill Medal as best afield, producing one of the highlights of the match with a 70 metre running try, also producing several defensive moments of brilliance late in the match.
The loss ended Penrith's 17 match winning streak, the minor premiers falling at the final hurdle in pursuit of their first NRL premiership since 2003.
With the Storm's first attacking foray a superbly slick one, Josh Addo-Carr's final pass in-field put Justin Olam over the line and the ball just six inches from it.
May's slide into defensive position, with his boot knocking the Steeden loose en route to the turf was deemed a penalty try.
Several fumbles from returning Panthers star Viliame Kikau preceded an accidental offside penalty from the Fijian, then a late shot from James Fisher-Harris, that gave the Storm ample breathing room.
A Cameron Smith try right on half time put the Storm in the box seat, Papenhuyzen's barnstorming run to start the second half almost putting the result beyond doubt at 26-0.
A controversial try was awarded to Penrith's Brian To'o despite Isaah Yeo running behind one of his teammates in the lead-up, getting Ivan Cleary's side on the board.
It was followed by another from Crichton, making for a 26-12 ballgame with 10 minutes remaining.
Pandemonium then ensued. First Hughes was pinged for a professional foul, taking out Kikau as he chased a kick.
Josh Mansour then scored for Penrith, Melbourne defending grimly with the clock winding down.
Brandon Smith then joined Hughes on the sidelines as Nathan Cleary stepped past the Storm defence, powering through Papenhuyzen to score with 11 seconds on the clock.
With one final set to take the decider to golden point Penrith couldn't muster one last charge to their line, the Storm coming up with an intercept to bring the game to a close.
22 year old Papenhuyzen reflected on the difficulties of the season post match, with the Storm having been away from their home base for 113 days to claim the 2020 premiership.
"It's been a bloody tough year. We were sitting on the tarmac at Bankstown Airport and we didn't have a clue where we were going. We just stuck together, we overcame and adapted and we got history. So thanks to the boys," he said.
"Thanks to our fans who stuck strong. Especially our ones back in Victoria. It's a tough time back in Victoria. We wear the 'V' on our jersey proudly. Can't wait to go back there and celebrate with you."
Melbourne Storm skipper Cameron Smith won his fourth premiership in what could be his final game of his incredible 19 year, 430 game career, while Craig Bellamy saluted for his fourth premiership as coach having been at the helm since 2003.
IMAGE: The Australian.