Melbourne Storm have survived a spirited comeback to capture their fourth NRL premiership with a 26-20 victory over Penrith Panthers in Sydney.
After dominating the opening 45 minutes of the contest, the Storm led 26-0 and seemed to be coasting towards the title, but had to contend with speed wobbles down the home stretch, leaking four unanswered tries and finishing with only 11 players in the defensive line.
Panthers star Nathan Cleary scored a try in the final minute and turned down the conversion for one last attempt to force golden-point overtime, but the contest ended, as Penrith unsuccessfully tried to bust out of their own 20 with time up.
Riding a 17-game winning run into the Grand Final, Penrith were on the back foot from the start, conceding a penalty try in the fourth minute, when centre Tyrone May stuck out a foot to prevent Storm counterpart Justin Olam from scoring.
Flying winger Suliasi Vunivalu had Melbourne's second try against the run play, when he pounced on a loose pass from Cleary and sprinted 80m, while veteran Cam Smith crossed on the stroke of halftime, after he had the ball dislodged from his grasp and regathered to score.
When Ryan Papenhuyzen dashed 60m untouched early in the second half, Melbourne only needed to close the contest down, but drove coach Craig Bellamy livid with basic errors that let their rivals back in the hunt.
Momentum began to swing back Penrith's way, when wing Brian To'o latched onto a grubber kick from Isaiah Yeo and slid into the corner. Replays suggested the Melbourne defence may have been impeded, but the bunker allowed the try to stand.
That gave the Panthers some hope and they further reduced the deficit when Stephen Crichton scored out wide and Cleary converted.
With less than 10 minutes remaining, Cleary put a kick through for Viliame Kikau to chase, but replays showed the giant forward was obstructed by Kiwi Jahrome Hughes, who was sin-binned for the rest of the game.
Immediately, Penrith capitalised, with Jarome Luai floating a perfect pass wide for Josh Mansour to score in the corner.
Cleary's conversion missed, but as time counted down, the Panthers were again on the right side of a call from referee Gerard Sutton, when he marched Kiwi Brandon Smith, leaving Melbourne two players short.
Cleary scored from the ensuing tap kick, but could not inspire his team to a miracle ending.
Most eyes will now turn to Cam Smith, 37, who is expected to announce his NRL future - either retirement, a contract extension at Melbourne or signing with another team.
Melbourne Storm 26 (Vunivalu, Papenhuyzen & Cam Smith tries, penalty try (Olam); Smith 3 conversions & 2 penalties) Penrith Panthers 20 (To'o, Cleary, Mansour & Crichton tries; Cleary 2 conversions)