The beautiful moment of father and son, To’o begs the question as Panthers ‘family’ prevails

The beautiful moment of father and son, To’o begs the question as Panthers ‘family’ prevails



Family. It was there in the joy of Penrith’s man of the match Nathan Cleary and his coach father Ivan.

It was there when Brian To’o went on bended knee to his girlfriend Moesha Crichton-Ropati and handed her an engagement ring just before walking upstairs to pick up a premiere ring for himself.

It was there in the cheering scenes outside Jarome Luai’s home in Mount Druitt, western Sydney, and there in the history of the Panthers team – a fraternity where 13 out of 17 left the academy.

“We talked about that when we got together,” Nathan said of his special bond with his father. “We had a tougher year than last year’s heartbreak. It’s just best to do it with him.”

Brad Fittler said he couldn’t imagine Ivan’s pride in his son.

“Your kids get a sticker at school and you almost cry,” Fittler joked.

“It’s surreal,” Ivan Cleary said. “It’s hard to put into words. I coach him every day and if he is your son too, and the Clive Churchill? I couldn’t have written that story, it’s pretty cool.”

Thirteen of Penrith’s 17-man squad had completed the club’s academy.

“That’s what makes it special,” Nathan Cleary said. “I’m doing it with my brothers I grew up with – we’re like a family.”

Nleary came out on top in a bitter battle with Cody Walker and the pair engaged in a hateful head-to-head conflict in the two biggest moments of the tense battle.

Walker scored South’s first-half try by blasting right through the Origin halfback’s attempt, knocking him out and staggering him.

But revenge was sweet when Walker threw the crucial intercept that allowed Stephen Crichton to cross for the match winner.

As Crichton rushed off to score, Cleary gave Walker a gobful, the pair clutching at each other and exchanging insults.

“I’ve dreamed of this moment my whole life,” said Cleary, who won the Clive Churchill man of the match medal.

“This is for you in Penrith – can’t wait to party with you.”

Cleary said last season’s loss, and written off after a defeat in the opening week of the final, fueled this win.

“Losing a grand finale is a different kind of pain,” Cleary said. “That’s what makes this so special. We came back and won the hard way, kept popping up for each other.”

“He was fantastic,” said Peter Sterling, calling his last big final for Channel Nine. “He kicked South Sydney into submission.

“He had it good in the first 40 minutes. These big finals are won under pressure. Other than the missed tackle for Walker’s try, he was virtually clear.

“You need a number 7 to handle these situations and he has everything so well. He’s 23 and still learning the game, but he’s been through so much – going through the Origin series as a young player with so much anticipation. He’s a complete footballer.”

Walker got another chance to say something and was an integral part of building up to Alex Johnston’s 30th try of the season.

Souths’ halfback Adam Reynolds, who is leaving the club for the Brisbane Broncos, narrowly missed his attempted conversion.

“What a gripping game,” said Phil Gould. “South Sydney was so brave, they had nothing in their path all night.

“The intercept was the difference between the two teams.”

Reynolds was dejected after missing the chance to even the scores.

“We hung out there all night,” Reynolds said. “We had a chance at the end and didn’t come up with it.

“We wanted to put more pressure on them, they’re a quality side, but we found it hard to get out of our side. We kept fighting and fighting until the end.”

Walker was also crushed: “There were some pretty big moments and one of them was when I threw the intercept and we lost by two points. It’s hard dude.”

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