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The 2021 NRL finals was played over four weeks and concluded with the grand final on Sunday, October 3 at Suncorp Stadium which the Penrith Panthers won 14-12 over the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
First qualifying final: Melbourne Storm 40 def. Manly Sea Eagles 12
Melbourne put any murmurs of them being vulnerable to the upset emphatically to bed with a 40-12 demolition of Manly in the first qualifying final. Three tries inside the first 13 minutes put them firmly in contro, before Ryan Papenhuyzen scored a two tries – coming each side of half time – to see off the Sea Eagles challenge.
Second qualifying final: Penrith Panthers 10 def. by South Sydney Rabbitohs 16
South Sydney announced themselves as premiership contenders with a shock 16-10 victory over the Penrith Panthers. Having been labelled pretenders coming into the finals series – especially with Latrell Mitchell missing – the Rabbitohs were too good for the reigning minor premiers and booked their spot in the prelims with a tough win.
First elimination final: Sydney Roosters 25 def. Gold Coast Titans 24
The Roosters got out of jail in a big way after defeating the Titans by a point in an elimination final. They surrendered a second-half lead, only to kick a late field goal to go up by a point.
Gold Coast had golden opportunity to win it at the death after breaking close to the line, but a horrid pass from Patrick Herbert went into touch and brought their season to an end.
Second elimination final: Parramatta Eels 28 def. Newcastle Knights 20
In the other elimination final, the Parramatta Eels defeated the Newcastle Knights after a controversial finish where the Eels were awarded a penalty try. A stirring performances from Mitchell Moses helped the Eels keep their season alive, and sets up a date with Penrith for a chance to take on flag favourites the Storm in the second-last week.
First semi-final: Manly Sea Eagles 42 def. Sydney Roosters 6
Manly put any fears of a straight-sets exit to bed emphatically, riding a dominant start to a crushing 42-6 win over the Sydney Roosters.
The Sea Eagles were at their high-octane best, whereas the hefty injury toll of the Roosters finally caught up with them.
Second semi-final: Penrith Panthers 8 def. Parramatta Eels 6
The lowest-scoring match of the season saw the Panthers edge out the Eels in a finals classic. A tense second half saw neither side trouble the scores as Penrith hung on grimly, before Junior Paulo dropped a ball cold early in a set in the final minute to end the Eels’ hopes of an upset.
Second preliminary final: South Sydney Rabbitohs 36 def. Manly Sea Eagles 16
The Rabbitohs ran rampant to crush Manly 36-16 to become the first team to secure passage to the preliminary final. Despite a groin injury to captain Adam Reynolds, Souths started hot and seldom relented, with doubles to Cody Walker, Jaxson Paulo and Alex Johnston giving fans plenty to cheer. For the Sea Eagles, Tom Trbojevic would equal the club record with his 28th try for the season – though his missed opportunity in the first half with a teammate free might well have been their only chance of gaining a foothold in the match.
First preliminary final: Melbourne Storm 6 def. by Penrith Panthers 10
It was another low-scoring thriller involving the Panthers and, again, they came out on top. Early tries in each half – one to Stephen Crichton and one to Brian To’o – were enough for Penrith to get revenge for last year’s grand final defeat and progress to the big dance.
The Penrith Panthers made amends for their 2020 defeat in the grand final by defeating South Sydney 14-12 in the 2021 decider. South Sydney scored a late try and Adam Reynolds had a conversion from the sideline to tie the scores but narrowly missed.
Penrith captain Nathan Cleary won the Clive Churchill Medal for his best on ground performance.