28 matches: 24 wins, 4 losses
Top point scorer: Nathan Cleary – 231 [10 tries, 94 goals, 2 tries]
Top try scorer: Matt Burton
Player of the Year: Yet to be awarded
With the later finish of the 2020 season (the State of Origin series was played in November), the pre-season was limited to just two trial matches.
The Panthers opened the season with two defensive shut outs, not conceding their first points until Round 3 in the grand final rematch versus the Storm – which was won in the final seconds in a 12-10 thriller at the newly renamed BlueBet Stadium.
Any doubts that the Panthers had a special one-off season in 2020 was quickly dispelled, recording their best ever start to a season, winning the first 12 matches up to the State of Origin series, and be competition leaders. A record seven players, including six for New South Wales were selected in the Origin series.
With a much weaker team during this period, the Panthers lost two in a row, but steadied to win the next four. However, during this time, Melbourne took the competition lead.
In late June, with the ever-worsening COVID outbreak in Sydney, the Round 16 match versus Parramatta was played in an empty BlueBet Stadium. Days later, it was announced that the entire competition would be relocated to Queensland, for a minimum of four weeks (it later would be for the rest of the season). The Panthers were based on the Sunshine Coast for training, however, the remaining allocated home matches ultimately ended up being at Suncorp Stadium.
The much-anticipated re-match in Round 20 versus the Storm was an anti-climax in more ways than one – it was played in front of an empty Suncorp Stadium, and a weaker Panthers were soundly beaten. One of the players missing was Nathan Cleary, who suffered a shoulder injury in the final match of the Origin series, and his return a few weeks out from the end of the regular season was a much-welcomed return.
Whilst missing out on the opportunity to steal the minor premiership from the Storm in the final round, the Panthers finished second, both recording a 21-3 season, with the Storm only getting the minor premiership with a superior points differential. It was the most wins recorded by the Panthers in a single regular season.
In week 1 of the finals, they lost to third placed South Sydney in Townsville, however the top 4 finish gave the Panthers a second opportunity the following week in the semi-final.
Their opponents were the Eels, with the western Sydney derby played in the unfamiliar surrounds of Mackay in central Queensland. In a tight first half, only a penalty conversion was the difference, with the Panthers leading 8-6, and in a scoreless second half they had fought their way through to a preliminary final.
Billed earlier in the season as the two grad finalists, Penrith would meet Melbourne in the preliminary final at Suncorp Stadium. Entering the match as outsiders, the Panthers held a 6-0 lead at half time, and then extended it to 10-0 early in the second half. Whilst the Storm struck back, the Panthers fought and scrapped their way to a 10-6 win and go through to their second consecutive grand final – awaiting them in the ‘big one’ would be South Sydney.
With Brisbane hosting the grand final for only the second time, outgoing centre Matt Burton crossed for the first try for the Panthers to lead 6-0, and although the Rabbitohs replied with an equaliser, a Nathan Cleary penalty gave Penrith an 8-6 lead t half time. In a tight second half, a penalty conversion to the Rabbitohs levelled it at 8-all, and with 13 minutes to go an-all or nothing play from Stephen Crichton came off when he plucked an intercept and ran 45 metres to touch down. Leading 14-8, the Rabbitohs ensured a tense finish with a try in the 73rd minute, only for the conversion to be unsuccessful. A two-point field goal attempt dribbled over the dead ball line with 45 seconds remaining, and with a seven tackle set, simply ran the ball out of dummy half to run down the clock, and with it their third premiership. Nathan Cleary was awarded the Clive Churchill Medal for player of the match.