NRL Grand Final 2022: What we liked and disliked from Penrith Panthers vs Parramatta Eels

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Penrith have claimed their second-straight premiership after battering the Eels 28-12 in one of the most dominant displays in a grand final in recent memory. 

The Panthers proved far too good against a Parramatta side who battled away to no avail, as they came up against an incredible outfit that has now built a dynasty and have a genuine shot at becoming one of the best teams we've seen. 

Here's what we liked and disliked from the grand final. 

WHAT WE LIKED:

Penrith’s lightning-fast start

This Penrith side are veterans when it comes to grand final appearances and it showed in the early exchanges as they caught Parramatta cold. They did to Brad Arthur's men what Melbourne did to them in 2020, flying out of the blocks and effectively winning the game in an opening onslaught. 

Liam Martin and Moses Leota set the standard in defence with each of them putting on two massive hits. While the Panthers backline played off the back of their huge advantage in possession and field position, posting 12 points inside the first 20 minutes.

Their pressure was relentless as they rolled through the middle of the Eels and forced them to defend their line time and time again until they cracked.

Nathan Cleary too clever

After a sustained spell of possession, the Eels were only just managing to hold on against the Panthers. Yet Nathan Cleary spotted his moment to pounce with Clint Gutherson up in the line halfway through the tackle count. 

The Parramatta captain had become tied up and Cleary immediately took advantage of this when he tapped a perfectly weighted grubber for Scott Sorensen to score his side’s third of the night against a shellshocked opponent who were beginning to wilt on the big stage. 

Penrith defend their line then deliver a sucker punch

Penrith absorbed a period of pressure in the second half with Parramatta desperately attempting to keep themselves in the contest. 

However, Maika Sivo was brought down one-one-one by Stephen Crichton, before the winger dropped the ball over the line. Then, Dylan Edwards pulled off arguably the play of the game with his brilliant covering tackle on Bailey Simonsson. It will no doubt feature on highlight reels for years to come. 

The Panthers’ No.1 then backed up his huge defensive play by popping a perfectly timed short ball to Charlie Staines to push the lead out beyond four tries.

It's the era of the Panther

Penrith have been the best team all year, so it was fitting that the reigning champions who claimed the minor premiership this season saved their best performance for the biggest game of 2022. 

Edwards and Brian To'o combined for close to 500 running metres, causing havoc at the beginning of sets with their rampaging kick returns.

Unheralded players like Leota and Martin set the tone from the first whistle with a brutality in defence that the Eels couldn't match. 

In Jarome Luai and Cleary, they have a halves partnership that is as seamless as it gets, with Isaah Yeo - the best lock in the game - also contributing to guiding the team around the park. 

Sure, Penrith are losing two vital pieces of the puzzle in Api Koroisau and Viliame Kikau next year, but they will start 2023 as the favorites to make it a remarkable three premiership wins in a row. 

WHAT WE DISLIKED

Parramatta’s forwards go missing

The Eels’ pack didn’t show up in the first stanza, as the team was restricted in possession and beaten in the physical battle.

Junior Paulo’s wild pass out to the wing instead of taking a carry through the middle set the tone early and matters didn’t improve from there.

Reagan Campbell-Gillard made just 27 metres in the opening half, while his front-row partner made 37m.

Isaiah Papali’i had one of the quietest 40-minutes of his career, as he was confined to being a tackling machine. He made just two runs for 11 metres, while Marata Niukore fared even worse with nine metres from his two carries.

In fact, Shaun Lane was the only Parra player to crack the 50m mark, while seven Penrith stars achieved that feat in the first half.

In the second period, Parramatta's forward pack didn't improve that much with Lane and Papali'i the only two to reach the 100m mark by the time the match ended. 

Kicking game from Eels plays into Penrith's hands

The two best players for kick returns in Penrth’s side are Edwards and To’o. So, why the Eels repeatedly kicked to them was puzzling.

They got their punishment with both men carrying the ball back time and time again while putting the Eels on the back foot. Charline Staines was left alone.

It wasn’t the only questionable decision when it came to their kicking game, with Parramatta choosing to kick-off down the centre of the field which gave their defence next to no chance of penning the Panthers into a corner.

A Parramatta deficiency comes back to haunt them

The Eels concede far too many metres per set, which has been a hinderance in their game all season. It brought them undone on Sunday night, with the Panthers ruthlessly exposing their soft underbelly in defence. 

They allowed Penrith to travel close to 50m per set, while making barely 40m themselves. They conceded over 2,000 running metres with the Panthers running riot and repeatedly putting their opposition under pressure by making them work the ball out of yardage, while never having to endure that test themselves. 

Late surge too little too late from Brad Arthur's men

Parramatta did an incredible job getting to the grand final in the first place after being beaten in the first week of the finals against Penrith. They took the long way to get to the final but their dreams were ruthlessly ended by the same team who beat them last month. 

To their credit they kept fighting until the end and were rewarded with two late consolation tries that were actually the result of some eye-catching attacking play. Papali’i found a late offload for Gutherson, while a nice move down the right edge resulted in Jake Arthur crossing. Although it was too little too late. 

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Mark Molyneux is a content producer for Sporting News Australia.
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