2020 NRL Grand Final, Panthers 20 Storm 26 – Report

Andrew Pelechaty reviews the 2020 grand final between Penrith (on a 17-game winning streak) and Melbourne (playing their fourth grand final in five years). Here’s how the game went.


Minute Scoring Play Score
3rd Penalty Try Justin Olam (Melbourne) Melbourne 4-0
4th Goal Cameron Smith (Melbourne) Melbourne 6-0
22nd Goal Cameron Smith (Melbourne) Melbourne 8-0
26th Goal Cameron Smith (Melbourne) Melbourne 10-0
30th Try Suliasi Vunivalu (Melbourne) Melbourne 14-0
31st Goal Cameron Smith (Melbourne) Melbourne 16-0
39th Try Cameron Smith (Melbourne) Melbourne 20-0
40th Goal Cameron Smith (Melbourne) Melbourne 22-0
45th Try Ryan Papenhuyzen (Melbourne) Melbourne 26-0
52nd Try Brian To’o (Penrith) Melbourne 26-4
53rd Goal Nathan Cleary (Penrith) Melbourne 26-6
68th Try Stephen Crichton (Penrith) Melbourne 26-10
69th Goal Nathan Cleary (Penrith) Melbourne 26-12
70th Jahrome Hughes (Melbourne) – SIN BIN Melbourne 26-12
71st Try Josh Mansour (Penrith) Melbourne 26-16
79th Brandon Smith (Melbourne) SIN BIN Melbourne 26-16
70th Try Nathan Cleary (Penrith) Melbourne 26-20


1st Half

In a bizarre year for the game, the grand final got off to an appropriately bizarre start: first Penrith forced a Melbourne knock-on from the kick-off (for no reward), then Melbourne scored a penalty try in the 3rd minute. Camped on the left edge, Josh Addo-Carr passed inside to Justin Olam; the PNG International tried to put the ball down in the corner, but it was dislodged by Tyrone May’s leg. The Bunker ruled that Olam would have scored if not for May’s leg (regardless if it was an intentional kicking move by May or not), so the penalty try was awarded. It was the first penalty try in a grand final since 2013 (Jamie Lyon). Of course, Melbourne fans would remember that penalty try to Craig Smith back in 1999.

Penrith nearly hit back a few minutes later through Josh Mansour, but it was denied due to obstruction.

Penrith went in again after 16 minutes – off the back of a six again – with Stephen Crichton trying to burrow over, but he was held up. Despite the wet conditions, Penrith weren’t afraid to throw the footy around.

Again, Melbourne absorbed the pressure, earning a penalty goal for an 8-0 lead after 22 minutes. This created a parallel to last year’s grand final, when the Sydney Roosters led 8-0 after the first 20 minutes.

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Melbourne increased their lead to 10-0 four minutes later with another Cameron Smith penalty goal.

Desperate to get back in the game, Nathan Cleary threw a long ball as the Panthers went on the attack; it was intercepted by Suliasi Vunivalu, who ran 80 metres to score.

Melbourne peppered Penrith’s line in the final minute: after a big charge from Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Api Korisau knocked the ball out of Cameron Smith’s hands from dummy half; Smith then regathered to score under the posts, giving Melbourne an incredible 22-0 halftime lead.

While they had a massive lead at the break, it felt closer than that, with the clinical Storm taking advantage of their opportunities and Penrith’s errors; meanwhile, Penrith had two early tries denied, which could have given them some momentum.

After dominating the regular season (with a 18-1-1 record), and winning the minor premiership, the pressure of the year’s most important game looked to be getting to Penrith.

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2nd Half

Melbourne kept their foot on Penrith’s throat straight after the break: after the Panthers had lost their only Captain’s Challenge, the Storm took advantage, with Ryan Papenhuyzen running 80 metres to score, all but sealing Melbourne’s fourth official premiership. Or so it seemed…

Melbourne nearly had another try from a Jahrome Hughes kick into the in-goal, but Vunivalu couldn’t ground it.

Penrith finally had some luck, with Brian To’o scoring off an Isaah Yeo kick, though Yeo appeared to run behind Kurt Capewell before kicking. It was a strange call and another Bunker blunder that will be talked about. While not as crucial game-wise as that “six again” call last year, it’ll still generate debate.

With the game starting to peter out in the last 15 minutes, Penrith got a much-needed penalty; however, the kick for touch was batted back by Papenhuyzen (and kept alive for the Storm) in a ridiculously athletic effort.

Penrith gave themselves a glimmer of hope a few minutes later, with Crichton scoring. Nathan Cleary’s conversion cut the Storm’s lead to 26-12 with 12 minutes left.

Penrith’s glimmer got a little bigger when Jahrome Hughes was sin-binned for obstructing Viliame Kikau from possibly scoring a try.

Penrith scored another try, through Josh Mansour, to cut the lead to 26-16 with nine minutes left.

With two minutes left, Penrith earnt a goal-line dropout, trying to pull off a miracle. Brandon Smith was the second Storm players sin-binned, with Nathan Clearly scoring a quick try (and refusing the kick at goal) to bridge the gap to six.

Needing to score off one play, Penrith threw the ball around from the kick off, but Melbourne shut it down to claim victory.

While the Storm were clinical when it mattered, sending Cameron Smith out a winner (assuming he retires), the young Penrith side – who had dominated 2020 – kept coming and nearly pulled off a miracle from 26-0 down. While it was only their second loss this season, this one will hurt the most.

Papenhuyzen capped off a fine night with the Clive Churchill Medal, as well as making the NSW Origin squad.

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Suliasi Vunivalu’s first half try was a turning point, and a potential 12-point play. Trailing 10-0 after the penalty try and a couple of Cameron Smith penalty goals, Penrith were deep in Melbourne’s territory and looking to close the gap. Nathan Cleary – arguably the best player this season – threw a long ball which was picked off by Vunivalu, who ran 80 metres to scores. Where Penrith could have pegged the gap back to 10-4 or 10-6, Melbourne now led 16-0.

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Penrith Panthers: 1 Dylan Edwards 2 Josh Mansour 14 Tyrone May 4 Stephen Crichton 5 Brian To’o 6 Jarome Luai 7 Nathan Cleary 8 James Tamou 9 Apisai Koroisau 10 James Fisher-Harris 11 Viliame Kikau 12 Liam Martin 13 Isaah Yeo. Interchange: 3 Brent Naden 15 Kurt Capewell 16 Moses Leota 17 Zane Tetevano.

Melbourne Storm: 1 Ryan Papenhuyzen 2 Suliasi Vunivalu 3 Brenko Lee 4 Justin Olam 5 Josh Addo-Carr 6 Cameron Munster 7 Jahrome Hughes 8 Jesse Bromwich 9 Cameron Smith 10 Christian Welch 11 Felise Kaufusi 12 Kenneath Bromwich 13 Nelson Asofa-Solomona. Interchange: 14 Brandon Smith 15 Tino Faasuamaleaui 16 Dale Finucane 17 Nicho Hynes.

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