The young Panthers squad might need to experience the pain of losing a grand final to help them grow further into a team that can win one, according to coach Ivan Cleary.
With only three players having been a part of a NRL grand final squad, compared with 11 in the Storm side that won 26-20 in Sunday night’s grand final, Cleary still didn’t think his side was intimidated by Melbourne.
“I don’t think we were over-awed. We’ve seen right throughout the semi-final series that teams haven’t been perfect … they (Storm) just took their opportunities, we didn’t and we were getting frustrated,” Cleary said.
“It’s obviously so hard to get here – the opportunities don’t come that often. It was a frustrating game – I still can’t quite explain it. I’ll need a bit of time for that.
“I’d love to have the game again tomorrow.”
Crichton steps back inside to score
However, luck and composure seemed to abandon Penrith right from the start, when a penalty try went Storm’s way to Justin Olam in the third minute and a Josh Mansour try in the seventh minute was over-ruled by the Bunker for an obstruction.
“I’d rather look at the positives this year and the benchmarks we basically set. It’s a very young team,” Cleary said.
“I don’t think it was meant to be tonight. They’re obviously just not ready yet. I look forward after the dust settles to get back into it because it’s so much fun.
Cleary 'would love to have the game again tomorrow'
“The boys are gutted now … maybe that’s part of the fuel that keeps the fire burning. We just didn’t quite get it right tonight.”
Captain James Tamou, who played his last game as a Panther before heading to the Wests Tigers next season, now has insight into what he might face as an opposition player in 2021.
“The maturity that they showed for a big game and their guts and effort … it will be scary coming up against them next year,” Tamou said.
“But these guys, what they do on the training paddock and what they do in a game, surprises me every day.
“I’m looking forward to watching them … they’ll learn from this.”
Cleary pointed in one direction to get some insights – the Storm.
“As long as I’ve been around coaching they’ve been at the top of the tree,” he said. “And their victory tonight is the reward for their consistency.
“You can’t do anything but admire that. It’s something we’d like to aspire to.”
Luai lofts a pass over to Mansour
At one stage it looked very much like Penrith wouldn’t break the Storm line at all. It took until the 67th minute before halfback Nathan Cleary was the first to get over the advantage line. The Storm had made five by then.
In the end line breaks ended up 5-4 the Storm’s way, as the Panthers piled on their last three tries in 11 minutes.
That was the Panthers' first loss since round five back in mid-June when the Eels toppled them 16-10. So to break a 17-match winning streak it takes mistakes and the Panthers made 18 against Storm – nine in each half.
Cleary gives Penrith a glimmer of hope
It also takes poor respect for the ball, with the Panthers having a 69 per cent completion rate – or not getting through 15 sets.
It didn’t start raining until after the full-time hooter so wet weather cannot be blamed totally.
“We turned over too much possession too often ... by trying too hard in the second half,” coach Cleary said.
“It was hard to believe we were 22-0 down at halftime so the job became to keep the belief up. We were still swinging at the end of the game so I was really proud of the boys.”