“It’s been a long, hard year, and I’m really happy with it,” Panthers coach Ivan Cleary said.
“But as everyone knows, you get into the finals and you don’t get anything for that, for what you’ve done [in the regular season].”
Cleary said there was a couple of silly errors and penalties in the first half that let the Eels off the hook, before a clinical last half hour.
“After that, I just felt we really controlled the game – attacked well, defended well. There were lots of things to like tonight.”
He was full of praise for his team’s defence while down to 12 men, adding that scoring with one fewer player than the opposition was a bonus.
One particularly pleasing thing for the Panthers was how devoid of rust Nathan Cleary looked, despite not playing for a month.
“He’s always done it in the past, when he’s ever been injured or hasn’t played for a while, he comes back well from a spell – so I was hoping that was going to happen.
“The way he was training, and just the way he looked, I thought he’d go alright.”
Co-captain Isaah Yeo echoed the sentiments, calling his No.7 the best player on the field.
“He’s your star player, he’s your halfback – and when he’s out there, everyone can feel the confidence grow,” he said.
“I thought his kicking game was outstanding, he knew went to run. Like Ivan said, you could see it happening at training.
“But then to come out on the big stage, when he’s the halfback so he’s always going to have that pressure on him, particularly after that five-week spell, I thought he was the best player on the park by a mile tonight.”