Penrith Panthers will head in to the NRL play-offs as minor premiers after their win over South Sydney sealed top spot in the table.
It’s their second minor premiership in three years and their third overall.
Last season, they finished runners-up in the regular season but went on to win a second NRL title by beating South Sydney in the final.
The Panthers have won 19 of their 22 games so far this season, and are eight points clear of nearest challengers North Queensland.
They didn’t have it all their own way against the Rabbitohs on Thursday, with a late try from Liam Martin securing a 26-22 victory.
With the game locked at 22-all, it looked like they might need golden point to secure the minor premiership with two games to spare.
The Panthers had earlier taken the lead when Stephen Crichton raced 60 metres to open the scoring.
But Souths fought back from 12-4 down to level things up at 12-all at half time.
A Crichton penalty edged the Panthers in front and then Spencer Leniu’s try gave them some breathing space.
Campbell Graham dragged Souths back in to and then with 10 minutes to go, Latrell Mitchell’s conversion put them 22-20 in front.
A penalty four minutes from time enabled Penrith to restore parity before Martin’s late winner.
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Will the 2022 NRL minor premiership winners go on to win back-to-back titles?
The last three NRL minor premiers have failed to go on to win the Grand Final.
The last team to do it was Sydney Roosters in 2018, who finished top and then beat Melbourne 21-6 in the Grand Final.
In two of the last three seasons, the minor premiers – Melbourne Storm on both occasions – have failed to reach the Grand Final.
On only eight occasions since 1998 have the minor premiers gone on to win the Grand Final – including the Panthers in 2003.
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