Melbourne Storm win National Rugby League grand final

·2-min read
Josh Mansour of the Panthers, center, and teammates take to the field during an open training session and fan day at Panthers Stadium, Sydney, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. The Penrith Panthers will take on The Melbourne Storm in the 2020 NRL Grand Final this Sunday. The final will be played in its regular Olympic stadium location in Sydney, only about 40,000 spectators will be allowed in the 85,000-seat venue because of social distancing regulations and crowd restrictions.(Dan Himbrechts/AAP Image via AP)
Josh Mansour of the Panthers, center, and teammates take to the field during an open training session and fan day at Panthers Stadium, Sydney, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. The Penrith Panthers will take on The Melbourne Storm in the 2020 NRL Grand Final this Sunday. The final will be played in its regular Olympic stadium location in Sydney, only about 40,000 spectators will be allowed in the 85,000-seat venue because of social distancing regulations and crowd restrictions.(Dan Himbrechts/AAP Image via AP)

SYDNEY (AP) — The Melbourne Storm led 22-0 at halftime and went on to beat the Penrith Panthers 26-20 in the National Rugby League grand final on Sunday.

The result ended a 17-game winning streak for the Panthers.

The match could be the last for champion Melbourne skipper Cameron Smith, who has yet to announce if he will play on for his 20th NRL season in 2021.

In a nerve-wracking finish at the Sydney Olympic stadium, Penrith came from 26-0 down with 28 minutes to play to reduce the margin to six points with just three seconds remaining.

With the Storm down to 11 men with Jahrome Hughes and Brandon Smith in the sin-bin, Penrith had one final play to level it from the kick-off after a late Nathan Cleary try.

But after they went back-and-forth across the field, the ball landed in Felise Kaufusi’s hands to wrap up Melbourne’s fourth NRL title.

“If there was another couple of minutes on the clock I don’t know what would’ve happened there,” Smith said.

The Storm players didn't have it easy on their way to the league title.

They haven’t slept in their own beds since June, having been forced into camp, first in Sydney before settling on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland state, due to the COVID-19 outbreak in Melbourne.

“With the conditions that we’ve been under, I think it’s a remarkable effort to be here tonight and get a victory,” Smith said. “We haven’t been home for about five months. We did it the hard way with 11 men in the end."

Melbourne fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen won the 2020 Clive Churchill medal as the grand final’s player of the match.

The 22-year-old Papenhuyzen scored a second-half try from inside his own quarter, ran for a game-high 187 meters and made two tackle breaks in the Storm’s victory.

The match was played before 37,303 fans, well below the stadium's capacity of 85,000 and restricted due to coronavirus protocols.

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