Australia: Fans flock back to Sydney NRL decider

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The NRL grand final was back in Sydney for the first time in three years, but it ended with more pain for Parramatta's long-suffering fans.

Parramatta fans far outweighed their western Sydney rivals Penrith at the NRL grand final. © Dean Lewins/AAP PHOTOS Parramatta fans far outweighed their western Sydney rivals Penrith at the NRL grand final.

Hearts were always going to be broken when neighbours Penrith and Parramatta collided in the first true western Sydney derby grand final in more than 30 years, with that conflict even occurring among families.

Take lifelong Eels fan David Richards for example, who chaperoned two granddaughters to the Accor Stadium showpiece.

Most unfortunately for him, they were clad in Panther black.

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"My daughter married a Panthers fan and I couldn't swing the young ones to the Eels," he said.

"You always want the best for your family but hopefully they're going home sad tonight."

Eels fans far outnumbered their counterparts with the concourse a sea of blue and gold in the early afternoon, although they certainly had reason to be early with their NRLW side contesting that decider.

Some 42,000 fans had entered the ground for the women's clash, but there wasn't a spare seat by kick-off of the men's.

Probably the most colourful character was a Parramatta fan dressed as biblical figure Moses - an homage to star halfback Mitchell Moses - holding a sign reading "Eels shall win thy premiership".

Panthers fan Gary Tarrant admitted it looked a pro-Eels crowd, but said his club's football would do the talking.

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He referenced comments from star Panther Jarome Luai, who suggested Parramatta should call Penrith "daddy" such is their dominance.

"They've probably got the crowd numbers but you heard what Luai said, we're in charge now," he said.

One thing the rival fans could agree on was a love of Jimmy Barnes' pre-match entertainment, the whole crowd uniting the belt out 'Working Class Man' together in a truly spiritual moment.

Any hopes the 1980s-feel was some sort of omen for Parramatta given they haven't won a flag since that decade were snuffed pretty early with the Penrith onslaught.

Their fans came in confident, but they must have been nervous once the game began given they haven't won since 1986, and have lost two grand finals since.

Lifelong Parramatta fan John Hanna has been through it all, including the Eels' 1981 premiership where celebrations included burning a Cumberland Oval grandstand down.

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"I remember them all - I was there the night we burned down the grandstand," he said.

"Hopefully we don't have to burn this one down too."

As loud as the cheers were for Parramatta's arrival to the field, the boos that greeted the Panthers packed far more decibels.

But the rarest breed of supporter were Newcastle fans, in attendance to see their NRLW side win their first title.

Hannah Jackson, who travelled from the Hunter for the game, said it was more than worth the trip.

"We didn't win a game last season … it's hard not to be proud of this team," she said.

The NRL thinks 25,000 buckets of chips, 100,000 beers and 40,000 pre-mixed spirit drinks would be consumed throughout the day, made possibly by the 3000 staff working the event.

Nearly 1000 COVID tests were performed to gain access to the inner-sanctum 'clean zone', which includes the teams' dressing rooms.

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