Taking nothing away from the back-to-back premiers Penrith – this grand final display was brutal, clinical and ruthless as the men in black submitted a display that looked like they’d been programmed to the millisecond to peak on the first Sunday in October.
Panthers props Moses Leota and James Fisher-Harris performed like they were straight from central casting in Fight Club, Dylan Edwards was a deserved Clive Churchill Medal recipient and Nathan Cleary confirmed he’s on course to be celebrated as one of the game’s all-time great halfbacks.
For all the credit the Panthers deserve, there’s no question one of the biggest storylines out of the game was the spectacular fold from the Parramatta Eels.
Eels fans were rightfully up and about and out in force at the game – making up around 80 per cent of the sold-out Accor Stadium crowd – but the team failed to repay their faith.
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Penrith beat Parra to go back-to-back! | 04:14
If the Panthers were fine-tuned to the millisecond, the Eels had the look of a side completely overawed by the occasion.
Whereas everything Penrith touched they turned into gold, everything the Eels touched quickly turned into dust.
The trick play early on to try and catch Dylan Edwards out of position with a Dylan Brown chip kick was a calculated risk. It failed.
The ploy to try and get Reed Mahoney at Cleary on fifth tackle options worked only once off the first set of the game.
Maika Sivo probably scores that second half try nine times out of ten.
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In the lead-up to the game there were headlines about Parramatta halfback Mitch Moses possibly becoming the highest-paid player in the game.
Not on what the Eels playmaker submitted on the NRL’s biggest stage.
In fairness to Moses and Parramatta five-eighth Dylan Brown it’s tough to play off the back foot when your forward pack is getting steamrolled.
But the great halves like Andrew Johns or Cooper Cronk still find a way.
The Panthers forward pack simply ran harder and tackled harder, with the back-to-back premiers line speed consistently pinning the Eels in their own half.
Was it Fool’s Gold the Eels making the grand final? No, they earned their shot at the Panthers with outstanding wins over Canberra and North Queensland after finishing top four.
But there’s no question the club’s approach to treating the grand final just like any other game was a spectacular flop.
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The last time a Parramatta side adopted this approach was back in 2001 when the Eels had smashed all sorts of records on their way to the GF.
The only problem was the Eels were then completely ambushed by Andrew Johns, Ben Kennedy and Danny Buderus as Newcastle blew them off the park to win the club’s second premiership.
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The toughest thing for Eels fans to digest will be where the club goes from here?
Because with Mahoney, Isaiah Papali’i and Marata Niukore all departing the club, it’s hard to see how they improve next year.
Parramatta coach Brad Arthur deserved credit for piloting the Eels into their first grand final in 13 seasons and having them consistently inside the top eight for the last four seasons.
But the Eels holding the title of the NRL’s longest premiership drought still exists and after the grand final performance it feels like they missed their golden opportunity.
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