All roads led to western Sydney on Sunday night but few heading to Accor Stadium would have predicted the one-way traffic once they got there. Perhaps they should have, though, because each one of the 28 almost-unanswered points Penrith scored en route to the 2022 premiership was a step on the club’s inexorable march to the NRL promised land.
It is the kind of place from where historians retrieve their statistics to illustrate grandeur and glory. And it is where the Panthers reside after a grand final throughout which they turned the game of rugby league into an easy-to-use kitchen appliance and switched it to high for a good first-half chopping. At the 75-minute mark, Parramatta were still the off-cuts on the scrap heap.
By the 77th the Eels had two quickfire tries of their own, through Clint Gutherson and Jake Arthur, but by then the tale of the 2022 decider had already long been written. It was the story of a flawless first half, of Dylan Edwards’s brutally beautiful cover tackle and Brian To’o’s two tries and 299 metres. It was also the story of the Cleary family, who have moulded this team into just the second of the NRL era to win back-to-back titles.
“I think it is just outside noise about how hard it is,” Nathan Cleary said after the game. “We kind of spoke about it early on that we always wanted to be the hunters. Everyone talks about you are hunted when you are the best. That was our mentality. We wanted to hunt teams and that’s when we are at our best.”
In the past three years Penrith have won 67 of 78 their matches. It is the most dominant run since Parramatta won three consecutive titles in the early 1980s. This is a dynasty, however you spin it, and even losing Api Koroisau and Viliame Kikau next season will not change it.
It is just unfortunate for Parramatta, whose title drought will now stretch past the 36-year mark, for whom the occasion beckoned but the try line did not.
“That’s footy,” said Gutherson. “Someone has to lose and unfortunately it was us. We were losing too many tackles there early. In the back field they got a roll on. Nathan was putting the ball wherever he wanted. We were finding it hard to get out of our own zone. They were outstanding. We gave them way too much ball there in the first half and I think we made 110-120 more tackles than them in the first half. You can’t do that to a quality team.”
Edwards, the Clive Churchill medallist, produced his first big moment in the opening 15 minutes when Cleary put him into space and the full-back found Stephen Crichton trailing back inside him. Jarome Luai was also back to his best, making the most of Penrith’s momentum to help put To’o over for their second.
Again, it was the back of a big Edwards kick return as he regularly put the Panthers on the front foot. At that point Liam Martin looked as if he could score every time he touched the ball on the right and Kikau was busting through tackles for fun on the left.
Cleary also had the ball on a string as Penrith zeroed in on Parramatta’s ball-carriers. The half-back’s finest play came when he spotted Gutherson in the line and grubber-kicked for Scott Sorensen to make it 18-0 before half-time.
The Eels were up in arms when Mitchell Moses was then ruled to have initiated contact on Kikau in the lead-up to To’o’s second try after the break, but by then the game was done.