HomeAustraliaPanthers’ total football makes them kings of the jungle

Panthers’ total football makes them kings of the jungle

At its most basic, rugby league comes down to these words, written by Rudyard Kipling in the Second Jungle Book: “For the strength of the pack is the Wolf and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.”

Pack, in rugby league, usually means forwards but all 17 of Penrith’s players hunted like wolves, both with the ball and without, in Sunday night’s NRL grand final 28-12 victory. The outer western Sydney team were wolves in Panthers clothing. Their relentless, ruthless and remorseless pursuit of Parramatta on every play was, while uncompetitive, nevertheless, absorbing.

Kipling’s wolf was Britain’s control over colonial India but Penrith’s wolf like hunger derives from their need to play for their families and fans at the foot of the Blue Mountains and further westward to towns such as Dubbo, home of co-captain Isaah Yeo.

It was the Panthers third successive grand final appearance, with the first two under COVID-19 conditions. So, with 82,000 people packing the Homebush stadium, many of them in a historical range of Penrith apparel, coach Nathan Cleary’s men put on a dominant display to win their second successive title.

They destroyed and demoralised, winning pretty with speed and finesse one moment, while triumphing ugly with power and toughness the next.

Essentially, the wolves starved Parramatta of possession. It was a game for the hunters, not the Hamlets. There was little indecision from the Panthers. In fact, there were times when their play was too instinctive.

If they had gone to ground a couple of times and settled on a play-the-ball, instead of letting the impulses bypass neurons and travel direct to fingertip, the score could have been higher.

The Eels scored two late tries and although they started well, simply could not penetrate the Panthers disciplined defensive line. This is not to say Penrith’s brutal pack tackling dominated the game. They displayed those paradoxical qualities – fury and finesse – for much of the contest. After the early one out charges by both teams, Penrith were the first to launch passing raids, confident in their skill with the ball. Co-captain Ivan Cleary, playing unselfishly, sought to set up his outside men, with Jahrome Luai probing dangerously. He challenged Parramatta early, with the young five-eighth possessing the feet of a cat burglar and the passes of a contortionist. Compare these skills with the steady play of Yeo who perfectly fulfilled the role of the modern lock, taking the ball forward like a front rower but linking with outside men to create space for his halves.

One moment was magic. Fullback Dylan Edwards flew across field to sweep the feet of try-bound Bailey Simonsson into touch, a text book perfect tackle which obviously contributed to him being awarded the Clive Churchill Medal.

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