NRL Grand Final 2023: Nathan Cleary’s five words will terrify NRL after historic 40-year first, Panthers dynasty, ‘we’re still just getting started’

The current Penrith Panthers side has joined the legendary teams of rugby league history, becoming the first side in 40 years to win three straight premierships.

Only eight teams have ever won three straight titles, while only two, the 1925-29 South Sydney Rabbitohs with five straight and the 1956-66 St George Dragons with 11 straight, have ever won more than three in a row.

Watch every match of The ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup Live on Kayo Sports. Starts THU 6 OCT 7:30PM AEDT. Join Kayo now and start streaming instantly >

The Panthers’ historic comeback saw the side come from 16 points down, the biggest NRL Grand Final deficit in history, to become the first side since the 1981-83 Eels to reach the milestone.

And making the feat even more special was the fact that the Panthers are the first to do it in the NRL era and the salary cap era, which is meant to even out the talent.

But as the dust settles on their achievement, there is one thing that the Panthers have in their favour over the teams that have gone before them — their streak is still current.

After claiming the Clive Churchill Medal — his second — the Panthers’ 25-year-old superstar halfback Nathan Cleary, who had orchestrated the late comeback, had a gracious celebration speech.

“It honestly doesn’t feel real right now,” he said as he accepted the award. “Can’t wait for it to set in.

“To the Broncos boys, absolute beast team … very young. Shoutout to Ezra Mam as well. You’re a freak.

“Thank you for that game, it’s the hardest game I have ever played.

“To our boys it’s nothing but love. We work so hard for this.”

But it was his final line before leaving the stage that was most telling.

“We are still getting started,” Cleary said.

The Panthers have made themselves a dynasty and done so in an era where successful teams are usually torn apart as premiership players who command higher pay packets are forced to move on.

And the Panthers are not immune.

Next season, premiership winners Stephen Crichton, Spencer Leniu, Jaeman Salmon and Jack Cogger will all depart the club as the salary squeeze strikes.

After the 2022 victory, the Panthers lost Api Koroisau, Charlie Staines, Isaiya Katoa, Robert Jennings, Sean O’Sullivan, J’maine Hopgood and Viliame Kikau.

After the 2021 victory, the Panthers lost Matt Burton, Brent Naden, Tevita Pangai Jr. (who had been a short term signing ahead of the finals), Kurt Capewell, Paul Momirovski and Tyrone May.

And yet the club is still celebrating another triumph despite the brutal talent drain.

Cleary himself is just 25, fullback Dylan Edwards 27, Jarome Luai 26.

Isaah Yeo is 28, Liam Martin 26, James Fisher-Harris 27.

And yet there seems to be a never ending production line of future talent coming through.

But in the case of Cleary, NRL content lead Dan Talityre said it perfectly after full-time the era of dominance the league could still be facing: “Nathan Cleary is 25. Cam Smith played ANOTHER 12 YEARS.”

While you’d expect the club to start falling off a cliff, the Panthers have won three of the past four minor premierships — the side finished the regular season in second in 2021 to the Storm only on points differential.

Although betting markets mean very little a matter of hours after the Grand Final, the Panthers are already clear favourites to make it four in a row. The Broncos are not too far behind in before a sharp drop off to the rest of the league.

In the post-match press conference, Cleary was asked about how many more premierships the Panthers can claim.

“I think the best thing about going three in a row is that it gives you the opportunity to go four,” Cleary said.

“In saying that, it’s spoken about a lot but it’s just a journey, it’s not a destination, you just keep going and enjoying the ride and I know that winning is a lot more fun than losing so why not.”

Asked if he wanted a “handful of rings”, Cleary said: “It’d be nice.”

Leave a Comment