Penrith's 2020 pain fuels 2021 triumph

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Penrith's 2020 pain fuels 2021 triumph

Penrith can thank the lessons dished out by Melbourne for that one.

A year after missing the start to their first grand final party against the Storm, it was clear Penrith weren't about to make the same mistakes twice on Sunday night.

It was as evident in the early stages at Suncorp Stadium as it was in the Panthers players' relief and jubilation after fulltime in their 14-12 win over South Sydney.

The Panthers had every reason to be out on their feet, playing one more game and making 539 more tackles than Souths during the finals series.

But after 11 months of being driven by last year's grand final pain, Penrith had made it clear they weren't about to run out of gas when it mattered most.

Statistically, the Panthers enjoyed better ball in the first half of last year's grand final loss to Melbourne than in the first 40 minutes on Sunday night.

But it was what they did with it that mattered.

Last year they made seven errors and completed at 58 per cent, piling pressure on their defence as they went to the break at 20-0 down.

Against Souths they coughed the ball up just twice in the opening period, completing at 91 per cent and led 8-6 at the break.

And where Nathan Cleary's kicking was blunted by Melbourne's linespeed and pressure last year, he played with much greater freedom against South Sydney.

Six times Cleary got results from kicks, forcing four line dropouts, with three of them in the opening 20 minutes.

Then the crucial moment came with 13 minutes to play.

While Suliasi Vunivalu swung last year's grand final dramatically by latching onto a Cleary pass, this time it was Stephen Crichton for Penrith.

With Dane Gagai and Alex Johnston lining up promisingly outside Souths playmaker Cody Walker, Crichton made the match-defining play, intercepting Walker's cut-out pass to go 50 metres and score.

After two years of heartache, it was still never going to come easy.

Alex Johnston gave Penrith fans more than a heart murmur when he scored for the Rabbitohs with five minutes to go and made it 14-12.

It set up a possible fairytale finish for deapring Souths co-captain Adam Reynolds, with a conversion attempt from the sideline to level it.

But this wasn't meant to be his story, as he also missed with a late two-point field goal attempt.

Instead it was about a team that had risen through juniors together and dominated the NRL for the past two years finally getting its reward.

And after using the pain of last year's decider to drive them through 2021, learning the lessons from it to lift the trophy.

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