Cameron Smith led the way with 14 points as the Melbourne Storm held off a late fightback from the Penrith Panthers to cap a season played mostly in exile with a 26-20 victory in the National Rugby League Grand Final in Sydney.

The Storm dominated all but the last 10 minutes of a season finale, played in front of a rain-drenched crowd of 40,000, that had looked highly unlikely when the league ground to a halt after two rounds in March because of the coronavirus crisis.

The Panthers reached the championship decider on the back of a 17-match winning streak but they were unable to break free of a stifling Melbourne defence until it was too late to make a difference.

Late tries from Stephen Crichton and Josh Mansour reduced the deficit to 10 points and gave the Panthers a glimmer of hope but the Storm held on despite being reduced to 11 men and Nathan Cleary’s last-minute effort was too little, too late.

A second spike in COVID-19 cases in Melbourne had forced the Storm to play most of the season in Queensland and captain Smith said that made this triumph all the more special.

“Great feeling,” said the 37-year-old hooker, who has yet to confirm if he will return for a 20th NRL season.

“I’m just proud of this entire squad. We haven’t been home for five months and with the conditions we’ve been under, I think it’s just a remarkable effort to come here and get a win.”

The Storm were playing their 10th final in 23 seasons and the record books will register a fourth NRL premiership after the club had 2007 and 2009 titles taken away for salary cap breaches.

SOURCE – RADIO NZ

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