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Clutch play helps Panthers to NRL Grand Final glory

Penrith have prevailed in one of the great gruelling grand finals, a pivotal Stephen Crichton intercept proving the difference as South Sydney threatened to pinch the ultimate rear-guard premiership.

The Panthers' 2020 grand final night misery at the hands of Melbourne morphed into a shoot-out, but their 14-12 triumph before 39,000 screaming Suncorp Stadium fans on Sunday night typified defence at its finest in a year where points have flown thick and fast.

Redfern favourite Adam Reynolds twice had the toughest of chances – off the tee and with a 40-metre-plus, two-point field goal attempt – to pen his own farewell fairytale.

Nathan Cleary's own masterclass off the boot forced all five dropouts a thrilling contest saw, kicking the Rabbitohs to the kerb and earning him the Clive Churchill Medal.
But fittingly, Crichton's all or nothing play without the ball proved pivotal.

Especially when Penrith were so wounded with Cleary, Dylan Edwards, James Fisher-Harris, Moses Leota and Brian To'o all struggling with injuries at the back end of the season.

At 8-all and having been that way for most all of the second half, Rabbitohs talisman Cody Walker swung left with a long ball in the 66th minute.

Had it hit its mark, Alex Johnston would've been on his way but instead Stephen Crichton latched on to it and raced away to help the Panthers to a 14-12 lead.

"Having Walker there he is one of the best in the league and eyes for the footy and space to put their players in," Crichton said.

"We did video on that during the week and I was there at the right time."

Panthers co-captain Nathan Cleary, who was named the Clive Churchill Medallist, added: "We trained for it.

"When it comes to those big moments, that's the thing about [Crichton], he has the ability to do that but he's trained for that too.

"It's a beautiful moment. When it happened, that was surreal. Just gold."

Walker gave Souths a sniff when he helped put Johnston over in the corner but Reynolds’ strike from right on the sideline just missed to leave the scoreline at 14-12 and set up a frantic final five minutes.

Earlier, the Panthers had drawn first blood after Jarome Luai punished Campbell Graham's decision to rush up in defence, allowing him to pilot Matt Burton through the gap he left to score the opening try of the night.

Where the Rabbitohs were split out wide, Walker found fortune through the middle, leaving Cleary and Kurt Capewell for dead in a 35-metre jaunt to the line to lock the scores up at 6-all.
Jai Arrow's penalty for crowding the ruck allowed the Panthers to take an 8-6 lead at halftime with Cleary landing the goal.

The Rabbitohs locked the scores up again at 8-all after Reynolds landed a penalty goal before Crichton stepped up with the intercept try to put the Panthers on the road to victory and claim only the club's third premiership behind 1991 and 2003.