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Melbourne claim their greatest NRL title

Craig Bellamy has hailed Melbourne's 2020 premiership as the finest in their illustrious history after they held off a charging Penrith to win a bizarre NRL grand final 26-20.

But just like everything else this year, it didn't come easy.

In a nerve-wracking finish at ANZ Stadium, Penrith came from 26 points down with 28 minutes to play to reduce the margin to six with just three seconds remaining.

With the Storm down to 11 men after Jahrome Hughes and Brandon Smith were sent to the sin-bin, Penrith had one final play to level the scores from the kick-off after a late Nathan Cleary try.

But after they went back-and-forth across the field, the ball landed in Felise Kaufusi's hands to wrap up Melbourne's fourth title and by far their gutsiest.

It brought to an end Penrith's record-breaking season, halting their winning streak at 17 and without the major prize.

Melbourne are the most dominant team of the 21st century, however, none of their triumphs have had a backstory like this one.

The players haven't slept in their own beds since June, having been forced into camp firstly in Sydney before settling on the Sunshine Coast due to the COVID-19 outbreak in Victoria.

It's also their first premiership without all of the big three on the park, with Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk's exit originally expected to spell their demise.

"For what our guys have been through and all their families have been through, I would put it up the top of the grand final wins we had," Bellamy said.

"I always thought 2012 was the special one after what happened in 2010.

"But this year there have been circumstances and situations where I thought some might want to pack up and go home.

"But they all stuck through."

Captain Cameron Smith also praised his team's toughness, as he left his future unknown after scoring his first grand final try on halftime.

"We understood what we had to do and the reasons for it," Smith said.

"We wanted this competition to continue and that's why we did it."

You wouldn't have known their adversities the way the Storm started on Sunday.

They led from the fourth minute via a penalty try when Tyrone May kicked the ball out of Justin Olam's hands as he was about to touch down, and it was 10-0 after two penalty goals.

While Penrith bombed a chance with an obstruction, Melbourne seized their openings with Suliasi Vunivalu intercepting a Nathan Cleary ball and going 85 metres to score.

At that point Penrith had enjoyed the bulk of the ball and had 23 tackles on the Storm's line to just two at their own end, for absolutely no reward.

Smith's scrappy four-pointer proved crucial, as well as a 70-metre sprint to score from a scrum by Ryan Papenhuyzen just after the break.

But it was then the comeback began.

Brian To'o crossed for Penrith's first when he ran onto an Isaah Yeo kick after an apparent obstruction, before Crichton reduced the margin further.

When Josh Mansour dotted down with eight minutes to go and Hughes was binned, a miracle looked possible.

Cleary also pushed through the line in the dying seconds, just after Brandon Smith was marched from the field.

However, it was too little too late, condemning the Panthers to just their second loss of the year and with little reward for one of the finest seasons in memory.

"Frustrating game. I still can't quite explain the game yet," coach Ivan Cleary said.

"I will need a bit of time for that.

"Apart from the scoreboard I felt like we were going OK.

"The one thing I am so proud of our boys, they could not have tried any harder.

"I would love to have the game again tomorrow."

© AAP 2020