Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
That is so often the case in professional sport and it came back to bite a host of fans and experts alike in an epic 2023 NRL Grand Final.
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 >
When 20-year-old Bronco Ezra Mam crossed for his third try in a staggering 10-minute period for a 24-8 lead, he could be forgiven for starting to imagine a Clive Churchill Medal around his neck for best player on the ground.
A whole lot of other people sure were.
The only problem was, no one told Nathan Cleary.
The 25-year-old Cleary orchestrated the biggest comeback in NRL Grand Final history, snatching the premiership and that Churchill Medal out of Mam’s grasp.
That 16-point lead also had countless people watching on believing the Broncos were about to be crowned 2023 NRL premiers.
Starting with the commentators.
“Brisbane are motoring home,” lead Channel 9 caller Mat Thompson said.
“Ezra Mam has blown this game right open for the Broncos,” Billy Slater chimed in.
“The Broncos are tearing Penrith apart,” Thompson added. “They have come flying out of halftime.
“Is a 17-year (premiership) wait about to end?”
Perhaps Thompson’s strongest call came when Adam Reynolds was seemingly controlling traffic after that Mam hat-trick.
“So Adam Reynolds can enjoy the luxury of piloting his team to victory here,” he said confidently.
“He’s got the scoreboard in his favour, this is in his bag.
“Slow the play down, keep his composure, the Broncos are edging close to their seventh premiership, the scoreboard at 24-8.”
Panthers great Brad Fittler was right on board too, using words like “panic” and “fatigued” to describe his former side.
“Well I’ve never seen the Penrith defence look so fatigued,” he said when they trailed by 16 points.
“When the ball came out to Payne Haas, you just watched all the Penrith defenders chasing around the back and the ball came back to Ezra, Lindsay Smith was out of the line, Nathan Cleary was out of the line.
“Normally you’ve got one brick wall of black jerseys. That’s what the threat of the Brisbane Broncos do. They make you panic.”
“We have not seen Penrith crumble like this, probably since the Grand Final of 2020,” Thompson added.
Andrew Johns, so often an astute judge of play when he’s in commentary, started to compare this Brisbane line-up to some of the great NRL teams.
“Billy (Slater), you played in some teams, especially in the late 2000s with (Greg) Inglis and (Israel) Folau and these sort of players, have you seen faster outside backs than the Broncos?” he asked.
“Well look it’s not even the outside backs that’ve been blowing them away. It’s been their fullback and their No. 6,” Slater responded.
“The speed of this team, the strike of their centres and (Herbie) Farnworth and (Kotoni) Staggs, incredible. Incredible athleticism and they’re still young.
“If they keep this team together Joey, they could do anything.”
The death knells just kept on coming.
“Can Penrith find some energy? Can they find some football? Brisbane have dominated possession out of halftime,” Thompson declared.
“Can Penrith get one (try) to start any hope of a revival here?”
As we all now know, the Panthers would get that one try and a couple more to seal one of the greatest comeback wins ever seen.
The commentators at least knew who Penrith would be relying upon to get them back into the game.
“Very rarely are Penrith in this position where the scoreboard pressure is on them,” Slater said.
“Where are their points going to come from?”
“With Jarome Luai off it all has to come from Nathan,” Johns replied.
“No doubt Nathan Cleary will go down swinging and want the ball in his hands.”
“This would be an unfathomable comeback,” Thompson added as he started to realise what was unfolding.
“He’s dragged them back into the game all by himself Nathan Cleary.
“He’s guiding everything.”
When the dust had settled and Cleary and the Panthers’ comeback was complete, Johns gave the halfback about the biggest compliment he could muster.
“I’m trying to think of a better halfback performance,” he said.
“He willed his team over. That performance by Nathan Cleary, the last 20 minutes of that game, is without doubt the best performance of a halfback in a Grand Final.
“What a game from the champion.”
For many, Cleary has now entered the debate over Immortals and the best players ever.
Using that hindsight, it’s probably best to resist the urge to write off champion players and teams until that final whistle.