Ryan Papenhuyzen of the Storm celebrates. Photo / Getty
The Penrith Panthers can claim to being “unlucky” in an NRL grand final of huge drama – but there is no denying the Melbourne Storm are the rightful champions in 2020.
There is also no disputing the greatness and immortality of Storm legend Cameron Smith as he led the Storm to a thrilling 26-20 victory that finished with a thrilling late fightback from the Panthers.
Smith was an absolute superstar as the Storm captain claimed his third NRL premiership and the fifth grand final win of his career as he celebrated becoming the oldest grand final winner (37 years and 129 days) in the history of the game.
The honour very nearly disappeared in front of his eyes as the Panthers mounted an extraordinary comeback that set up a thrilling final minute of play where the Panthers had one final chance to score off the kick-off to steal the most unlikely of grand final wins.
It was set up by a try to Panthers playmaker Nathan Cleary in the 80th minute that brought the Panthers to within one converted try with just seconds left on the clock.
With one final play, the Panthers zigged and zagged within their own half, but the Storm defence held firm to take another historic grand final victory.
Earlier, the Panthers had been left dead in the water a the Storm ran out to a 26-0 lead early in the second half.
The Panthers scored the last four tries of the match after a series of controversial calls went against the Storm.
The first allowed Isaah Yeo to set up a try after running around his own teammate in a clear obstruction.
The second saw halfback Jahrome Hughes sent to the sin bin with nine minutes left on the clock after the NRL Bunker ruled he had performed a professional foul by taking out Villiame Kikau.
With the Storm reduced to 12 – and then 11 – men at the death, the Panthers very nearly pinched it.
But the Storm showed their class to endure the onslaught and emerge with a famous grand final triumph.
Smith was even left emotional at fulltime as he talked about his team’s incredible defence when it mattered the most.
“Jeez, we did it the hard way there, 11 men in the end,” Smith said.
“Penrith were coming home with a wet sail and playing the footy they played all year.
“I’m just really proud of this club- not just this football team that played tonight, but the entire squad.”
Here’s how the extraordinary drama played out: