It’s hard to believe it’s been fifteen years since then coach John Lang took the Penrith Panthers to their last premiership win.
Sitting high in the nose bleed section of ANZ Stadium, I remember to this day how Sydney Roosters prop Adrian Morley took aim at Martin Lang. Lang was concussed in a bad way – if it was in the modern game the HIA Assessment would have ruled out the Maroons enforcer.
The other outstanding moment was “that tackle” with another Queensland legend, Scott Sattler. It must run in the family – the bravery and courage shown in that play was on show thirty-three years earlier when his dad John broke his jaw thanks to a “cowardly” blow by Manly’s John Bucknell in the 1970 decider.
But the night might have belonged to Luke Priddis who played the game of his life, going on to win the Clive Churchill Medal. He scored one try and set up the match-winner for Luke Rooney with a long pass to the left out of dummy half with seven minutes to go.
Like many other Panther fans that night, tears flowed from the eyes at full-time with a twelve-year drought over.
The odds were against the side. Wooden spooners two years earlier, running twelfth in 2002. After four rounds they were fourteenth with just one lone victory, ironically against the Sydney Roosters 23-22. The bookies knew it too, having the Panthers at 100/1 to win the title.
From that point on, Penrith would only record three losses all season and go on to become the most exciting rugby league team in the competition.
We fast forward fifteen years to 2018 as the Penrith Panthers look to end their premiership drought under coach Anthony Griffin and newly appointed captain Peter Wallace.
The major signing is James Maloney, a player who knows what it takes to win the NRL premiership. On the flipside the Panthers lose a local junior in Matt Moylan, the 2017 skipper.
You would think there won’t be many changes to the starting seventeen from the regular 2017 sides announced.
Dylan Edwards is looking at home in the fullback role and is heading on a path which could see him emulate the great Rhys Wesser. Nathan Cleary with another year in the top grade under his belt will discover more about his game alongside Maloney.
Leading the forward pack will be the recent addition to the Panthers International listing, Reagan Campbell-Gillard. His no fear approach to the game is a flashback to a twenty-one-year-old Joel Clinton who was in his early days one of the most feared runners in the game.
It would be a surprise if this side goes anywhere near the 100/1 odds after four rounds in 2003. In fact, William Hill have the Panthers sixth in the line of betting alongside western Sydney rivals Parramatta Eels at $13.
Having bowed out in second week of the finals for the last two seasons, Penrith will have their eye on a top four finish. Their campaign will start with a Super Sunday special against the Parramatta Eels at Panthers Stadium in just under six weeks’ time.
We look forward to enjoying a successful 2018 season watching the Panthers journey.