The NRL Grand Final has had an explosive start with Penrith scoring early and a Rabbitohs player forced off after an ugly moment.
Welcome to our live coverage of the 2021 NRL Grand Final between the Rabbitohs and Panthers.
South Sydney and Penrith stars have been on fire this finals series, but it is the running war of words between coaches Wayne Bennett and Ivan Cleary that has dominated the build up to the blockbuster in Brisbane.
It was a perfect start for Penrith when they broke through to score the first points of the game in the 16th minute.
Matt Burton sliced through on the left edge after Penrith had piled on the pressure with three consecutive line-drop-outs, but South Sydney returned fire just a few minutes later.
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More than 50,000 supporters were initially expected to attend a sold out Grand Final at Suncorp Stadium, but during the week the Covid outbreak meant capacity was slashed to 75 per cent.
First half: ‘Gone’ Souths star finally escorted off
Penrith and South Sydney are locked at 6-6 after silky tries by Matt Burton and Cody Walker.
Burton scored first when he took advantage of a poor defensive read by Campbell Graham. He only needed a simple dummy pass before slicing through the defensive line after Graham’s misread gave Penrith an overlap.
However, just four minutes later, Walker produced a moment of magic when he ran 50m by himself to score under the posts.
Walker caught a retreating defensive line off guard when he stepped back inside towards the centre of the field. He then streaked through and stepped around Dylan Edwards.
Earlier, South Sydney suffered two concerning moments with star players taking ugly hits.
Dane Gagai was forced from the field after he took heavy contact to his head while attempting to tackle Paul Momorovski.
Gagai went low and got his head in the wrong place.
Rugby League immortal Andrew Johns immediately recognised Gagai was in a bad way, however, Gagai continued to play for several more minutes before he was taken from the field by a medical official on the ground.
“Gagai is gone. He’s stumbling,” Johns said.
Earlier South Sydney forward Cameron Murray’s head snapped back in the first tackle of the game while attempting to tackle James Fisher-Harris.
Murray stumbled briefly after the tackle was completed but was able to rejoin his team’s defensive line.
Johns said on Channel 9: “Cam Murray got shook up on that big tackle”.
Veteran commentator Ray Warren said: “It was an absolute cannonball. The shoulder, and his head went ricocheting from head to head like a pinball. I hope he is OK.”
Penrith rolls the dice on injured star
Penrith fullback Dylan Edwards has proven his fitness in the pre-game warm-up and has been named in the Panthers’ official team for the Grand Final.
Edwards’ foot injury was the biggest talking point on Sunday after he was spotted at the team’s training walk at Suncorp Stadium on Sunday morning resting on crutches and wearing a moon boot.
Edwards has managed a foot injury in recent weeks and has previously worn the moon boot in the lead up to the Panthers’ earlier games in the finals series.
Former Panthers supremo Phil Gould posted on Twitter Edwards will have received a pain-killing injection in the minutes before the opening kick-off.
“He hasn’t trained for a few weeks. Gets needles to play,” Gould posted on Twitter.
“Tough kid. He will need injections again today.”
Penrith’s official team sheet showed one surprise with Viliame Kikau moving to the bench and Liam Martin replacing him in the second row.
South Sydney has not made any changes to the 17-player team announced on Tuesday.
Panthers coach Ivan Cleary on Saturday dismissed Edwards’ foot problem as a concern.
“Dylan’s fine – he’ll be right,” Cleary said.
“He’s started the week on crutches and a moon boot for the last three weeks – it’s just to take weight off the foot. “He was one of our best last week, he’s very important to our team. I’m sure both teams that are carrying injuries, we certainly have.”
Ivan Cleary roasted over interview snub
Ivan Cleary is reported to have knocked back a request to be interviewed on game day in a move he hasn’t made all year.
Broncos legend Gorden Tallis on Sunday slammed the Panthers mentor and players for failing to promote the sport in Brisbane this week.
Cleary has exchanged verbal barbs with Bennett in recent weeks but has tried to remain in the shadows this week.
Fox League reporter James Hooper said on Triple M on Sunday Cleary’s failure to make himself available for fans this week had raised eyebrows.
Hooper claimed Cleary had done “himself a disservice” with how he behaved this week.
“I understand it got pretty heated between him and Wayne a month ago and he obviously took some lessons out of that but this is the biggest game of the year,” said Hooper.
“He’s knocked back Triple M today for a pre-game interview. I think he’s done every single one when they have been requested across the course of this season.
Tallis said: “We don’t pay as much as TV but we are still partners,” Tallis said of Triple M. “You’re not talking to me, in the States you can interview Michael Jordan two hours before he plays.
“That’s why all our players wear NBA gear.
“All the players walk the street with their hat backwards with a LeBron James singlet or Kobe Bryant because you watch those guys every week selling their brand.
“It’s not the coach’s fault, nor is it the player’s fault. It’s the game’s fault. We have got to be stronger on it.”
Banned Rabbitohs star set to receive premiership ring
South Sydney has made a decision to award banned star Latrell Mitchell a premiership ring if the club wins on Sunday night.
The fullback has been suspended since Round 24 following a horror high tackle on Roosters centre Joey Manu.
According to The Daily Telegraph, the Rabbitohs plan to purchase 12 more premiership rings — valued at $5000 — to add to the 20 rings the NRL will hand to the club for the 17 players in the Grand Final and other top members of the coaching staff.
The Rabbitohs have made the decision to commission so many more rings in order to honour the players and senior officials that have made sacrifices this year inside the NRL’s biosecurity protocols.
2021 NRL Grand Final Match Day Running Sheet
All times AEDT
1pm: Gates open at Suncorp Stadium
1.15pm: Intrust Super Cup preliminary final
3.45pm: Intrust Super Cup preliminary final
5.30pm: Retiring players farewell
6.30pm: Pre-game entertainment
7.30pm: Penrith Panthers v South Sydney Rabbitohs grand final