In the grand final of a season when attack has been king, Penrith will back a defensive record that’s the best any NRL side has produced in 13 years.
Despite increased fatigue with greater game speed in 2021, the Panthers have been able to pull off an incredible defensive display by replicating their rock-solid wall from last season.
For the past two years the Panthers have leaked an average of less than 12 points a game – a feat not previously achieved since Melbourne’s 2007 and detik 2008 seasons.
That’s despite a stack of points-scoring records being broken and the most points scored in a season since 2005 ramping up the difficulty of the assignment.
“I’m super proud of this team,” said coach Ivan Cleary ahead of Sunday’s grand final against South Sydney at Suncorp Stadium.
“The defence is something we care about and work a lot at, put a lot of time into and I feel like it helps us, certainly helped us the last few weeks in tough situations.
“Historically any team that’s been any good has that good defence.
“I’m sure it’s going to help us again on Sunday.”
Defensive coach Cameron Ciraldo is the man behind the system, which was implemented in 2019 but took until mid-year that season to sink in.
The effect has been perfected across the past two years with hopes it will win them a premiership against South Sydney’s wicked attack on Sunday.
“The systems we’ve got now is just incredible,’ said Panthers forward Liam Martin.
“I have played under (Ciraldo) for a while, he coached me in under-20s back in 2016.
“I had a bit of a taste of his thought logic and how he sets things up back then.
“All the boys have bought into it, and the last couple of years the results have spoken for themselves.”
According to grand final skipper Isaah Yeo, the biggest key to their tight defence is trust.
The repetition of a system taught from the lower grades through to the NRL team with a squad of close-knit players makes it a perfect storm for water-tight defence.
“In the past two years we have been the top defensive side and that has obviously been a goal of ours for the past two seasons to get to this point,” he said.
“We obviously have great coaches here too who keep us all accountable…and then we are lucky it has shown up in big games like it has the past few weeks.
“It is something we are very proud of. It doesn’t just happen.
“You’ve got to go out and do it on the field, trust one another, trust the systems.
“It’s so important against a side that attacks so well, they are all on the same page when they’re attacking and obviously we have to try and combat that with making sure we’re all defensively on the same page.”