A Grand Final place against Melbourne Storm awaited the winners of the game between the Penrith Panthers and South Sydney Rabbitohs. The Panthers were the big favourites after ending the regular season as runaway leaders on the ladder but only a fool would underestimate the South Sydney Rabbitohs as they looked for success from sixth place.
Both coaches made just one change. The Panthers coach Ivan Cleary had Mitch Kenny in place of Viliame Kikau, while Bunnies coach Wayne Bennett brought in Hame Sele for the injured Campbell Graham, a big loss for South Sydney.
The Panthers won both meetings during the regular season but that counted for little in knock-out rugby. The stage was set for a massive showdown in front of forty thousand spectators.
Adam Reynolds wasted the first chance of points with just two minutes on the clock as he skewed a penalty for a late tackle wide of the uprights. But returning the dropout the Rabbitohs scored a tremendous try with a second tackle cross field kick from Reynolds finding Alex Johnston by the corner flag to take the ball with ease and touch down for the four-pointer. Reynolds curled the ball inside the far upright.
Within three minutes the Panthers struck back. A Nathan Cleary high kick was fumbled by the Rabbitohs defence and taken by Brian To’o to go ten metres for the try. Cleary added the two-pointer to level the scores at 6-6 after eight minutes, the game already living up to the pre-match hype.
After the initial flurry the game calmed down, both side using, and losing their captains challenge.
It took until the twenty-seventh minute before Tyrone May was on hand to take a Cleary chip over the top from ten metres out and ground for the Panthers second try. Cleary added the goal, Penrith 12-6 ahead.
A Cleary penalty after an obstruction on Stephen Crichton extended the Panthers lead with thirty seconds left on the first half clock, the Panthers taking an unconvincing lead into the interval.
Ten minutes after the restart the Rabbitohs were right back in the game as Dane Gagai took a pass ten from the line and stepped off his left foot before being tackled and sliding towards the line, reaching over his head to ground by the corner flag. Reynolds kicked brilliantly from the touchline and the arrears were back to two points.
On sixty-seven the Panthers put one foot in the final when full back Dylan Edwards was in support to finish off the try which was created thanks to a jinking run from Isaah Yeo. Cleary added the conversion from under the shadow of the H, the Bunnies now needed two tries in twelve minutes.
Souths weren’t giving it up without a fight as the hit back on seventy-three. A terrible pass from Walker went to the feet of Corey Allen who toed the ball forwards twice and got a hand on the bouncing ball in-goal. Reynolds pushed his kick wide, Penrith 20-16 ahead.
The game was as close as had been predicted with the winner uncertain until the final hooter. Both sides gave their all but the nervousness of the situation meant that we witnessed a scrappy but exciting encounter. Penrith, many peoples favourites to back up their minor premiership with a Grand Final win are in the showpiece, just the Melbourne Storm between them and total glory as they made their first final for seventeen years.
Penrith Panthers: Edwards (T), Mansour, Crichton, May (T), To’o (T), Luai, Cleary (4G), Tamou, Koroisau, Fisher-Harris, Capewell, Martin, Yeo. Subs: Naden, Leota, Tetevano, Kenny.
South Sydney Rabbitohs: Allan (T), Johnston (T), Gagai (T), Sironen, Paulo, Walker, Reynolds (2G), Tatola, Cook, Burgess, Su’A, Murray, Knight. Subs: Nicholls, Cartwright, Koloamatangi, Sele.
Referee: Gerard Sutton.
Half Time: 14-6.
Full Time: 20-16.
Venue: ANZ Stadium, Sydney.