A moat, an easel and no handshakes: Penrith's trophy handover mission
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A moat, an easel and no handshakes: Penrith's trophy handover mission

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NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo will be the only league official allowed onto ANZ Stadium for Penrith's minor premiership presentation - and even he won't be able to shake hands with coach Ivan Cleary and his players.

In a military-like operation approved by the game's Project Apollo group, the Panthers will lift the JJ Giltinan Shield from an easel, rather than being handed the spoils they've earned as the best team at the end of the regular season.

Kurt Capewell and the Panthers will receive the minor premiership on Saturday.

Kurt Capewell and the Panthers will receive the minor premiership on Saturday.Credit:Getty Images

It comes after the league had to apply for a government exemption to have the trophy returned to Sydney as part of a mission weeks in the making.

Abdo is expected to address Panthers coaching staff, players and fans in a designated zone away from everyone inside the club's biosecurity bubble, adhering to the COVID-19 protocols the NRL has been operating under all season.

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It again demonstrates the lengths the code will go to avoid any risk on the eve of the finals series, even as NSW's infection rate plunges to its lowest levels for months.

The Panthers originally toyed with having the minor premiership presentation at Panthers Stadium, which will host their opening final, but told the NRL their preference was to have it done after the round 20 match on Saturday.

The Panthers confirmed their first minor premiership since 2003 after last Friday's thumping win over North Queensland in Townsville.

It will be Abdo's first official trophy presentation since being appointed the NRL's permanent chief executive this month and comes after a tumultuous week in which he was forced to cut 25 per cent of his workforce.

Event organisers have established a "moat" for him to stand in for the JJ Giltinan Shield presentation, which will resemble last weekend's Super Rugby AU handover for the Brumbies.

Brumbies players picked up silverware and mugs from a vacant table after toppling the Queensland Reds in the final at GIO Stadium.

The Panthers' minor premiership celebration will cap an eventful few weeks logistically for the NRL. The code was forced to apply for a government exemption to extract the JJ Giltinan Shield. The trophy had been kept at Melbourne's headquarters, which have been locked down under public health orders during Victoria's coronavirus crisis.

The NRL received permission for a Storm staffer to return to the building and pass it on to a courier, who then travelled to Sydney.

Melbourne's players, support staff and a select group of officials have been based on the Sunshine Coast for most of the season.

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Panthers fans have snapped up almost 3000 tickets to watch their side receive the trophy, which will boost Canterbury's coffers. The Panthers are shooting for a 15th straight win and could have the majority of crowd support, which will be capped at 10,000.

Cleary has rested Viliame Kikau, Dylan Edwards and Stephen Crichton, but will still play son Nathan, who remains in the hunt for his first Dally M Medal despite having six points deducted over the TikTok drama earlier in the season.

The club released a statement on Wednesday threatening to contact a cybercrime unit to hunt down the perpetrators of an online smear campaign they claim is designed to sabotage their finals campaign.

A rumour has been circulating throughout the media recently with accusations about a former female staff member and alleged sexual relationships with people at the club. The Panthers say the allegations are untrue.

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