When Liam Martin collided into a red and green wall, spun and crashed over to score the game-winning try in the grand final rematch on Thursday night, he arrested the minor premiership for the modern-day Panthers juggernaut.
The State of Origin back-rower, who had burst onto an Apisai Koroisau ball from dummy-half, also triggered an outpouring of plaudits from a host of rugby league greats in awe of Penrith’s grit and professionalism.
The defending premiers were again without gun halves Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai, as well as prized front-rower James Fisher-Harris.
They had also been pitted against a South Sydney side riding a seven-game winning streak.
Breathtaking playmakers Latrell Mitchell and Cody Walker combined for a superb try in the 36th minute and, when the superstar No.1 banged over a conversion with nine minutes remaining in the match, the Panthers found themselves trailing for the first time in the game.
But Stephen Crichton drew the scores level through a penalty goal and Martin’s try in the 79th minute sealed Penrith’s triumph, the Panthers clawing back to win at the death.
Andrew Johns was among the rugby league icons on Nine’s panel left hailing the Panthers.
“Coming here tonight I thought Souths would just roll them,” Johns said.
“The form South Sydney’s been in … considering the players that Penrith have had out — what a performance.”
Billy Slater labelled the Panthers’ win an “incredible victory”.
“South Sydney said last week to the rest of the competition, ‘We can win this comp. We can win the premiership this year’,” Slater added.
Shades of 2021 GF in Crichton try
“They’ve got three of their best players out tonight, the Penrith Panthers, and they come out and they put on a performance like that and they go on and win in a pressure environment the way they did. I thought it was an incredible performance.
“It just typifies where their club is at, where this team is at.
“They’re in great shape to take out their second consecutive premiership.”
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Penrith has conceded only 12 points per match in its bid for back-to-back premierships.
Ivan Cleary’s men conceded 22 points in their clash with the Rabbitohs at Sydney Olympic Park, but that didn’t stop Allana Ferguson lauding the Panthers’ defence.
“Having three key men out of your side, you have to come together as a team, and that’s the way that you can bind together. You’ve got to put your body on the line, you’ve got to work together,” Ferguson said.
Slater stunned by ‘unbelievable’ Latrell pass
“Almost every time Souths were going through the middle Penrith would have three men in the tackle. They slowed them down, they brought fatigue into the game and they forced them to use the footy and then do their best to get out to the edges and stop them. They’re brilliant the way they defend and keep turning up. There’s errors in their defence from tonight, but they never wavered. They never went away and lost confidence. They just kept back at it.”
The Panthers clinched their fourth minor premiership in history on Thursday night, adding to their titles of 1991, 2003 and 2020.
They’ll meet the Warriors in Penrith next Friday night and face the Cowboys in North Queensland the following Saturday night, before launching into another finals campaign.
By that point, Cleary and Luai will have returned to pilot the Panthers in the halves.
It’s a frightening prospect for their rivals to come to grips with, because even without the Blues’ Origin halves — and Fisher-Harris in the front row — the Panthers are a mighty force.
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