Anxiety turns to joy at historic NRL GF

·3-min read

There are always some nervous moments before an NRL grand final.

But arguably the greatest sigh of relief came for players and fans hours before Penrith claimed their third premiership, outlasting South Sydney 14-12 in Sunday night's decider at Suncorp Stadium.

From the outset the 2021 grand final looked set to be one for the ages no matter the result.

Organisers were keeping their fingers crossed it would mark the first time in the game's 113-year history that it would be held in the Queensland capital.

However, it still remained up in the air just when and where the decider would be held hours before kick-off after cases of community transmission popped up in the state on Tuesday.

There were fears the game would be postponed or even relocated to Townsville.

But trepidation quickly turned to jubilation as Brisbane was officially given the green light on Sunday morning with no new locally acquired COVID-19 cases in Queensland after 18,427 tests in the past 24 hours.

Never had a result been so celebrated on NRL grand final day before a ball had even been kicked in anger.

After the unorthodox lead-up, it still promised to be a decider with a difference.

There were a sea of masks and two pop-up vaccination clinics at the venue where capacity had been capped at 75 per cent amid level two COVID-10 restrictions, cutting the crowd from a sold out 52,500 to 39,000.

There were plenty of empty seats but no complaints from fans who were happy just to be there, including the Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.

Indeed there were no shortage of feelgood stories before kickoff judging by the merry fans full of pre-game nourishment decked out in either cardinal and myrtle or the Panthers colours who swarmed on Caxton Street for the decider.

Still more were provided before the game.

Cronulla flyer Ronaldo Mulitalo finally got a nod at Suncorp Stadium months after he was ruled out of Queensland's State of Origin game two at the same venue over an eligibility drama, being awarded the Ken Stephen Medal for helping deliver NRL's Voice Against Violence and League Bilong Laif programs in schools during his time in Papua New Guinea.

He had also focused on supporting children with disabilities with the Sharks All Abilities School Program and the Skillz4me program.

Then Issac Luke, the South Sydney hooker who missed their drought-breaking 2104 premiership due to suspension, got his time to shine at a season decider.

The Kiwi No.9, who has announced his retirement this year after a 15-season, 286-game career, was given the honour by the Rabbitohs to ring the 1908 foundation bell before kick-off.

It had only been sounded twice since the club's 2002 return to the competition - ahead of kick-off when they ended their two-season exile 19 years ago and before the 2014 decider.

Even the most dyed-in-the-wool Panthers supporter no doubt appreciated the noise ahead of the historic decider after only alarm bells could be heard in the lead-up.

Then it was kick-off time after Johnathan Thurston delivered Welcome to Country without a hitch.

Of course it will depend on fan loyalties whether they agree that the rest of the match went to plan after Penrith ran out two point victors in a thriller.

But the fact that Brisbane were able to earn a slice of NRL history by hosting a season decider on Sunday night must surely be considered a win, no matter your NRL persuasion.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting