Our thanks to Andrew Ferguson for his 2014 piece recounting the story of Edward Larkin, who among ot...
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The date ? 5th October, 2003, the time 8:47pm. Time and history stood still. The rugby league world was stunned that such a feat could occur. This feat was the massive underdogs Penrith, defeating the reigning premiers, the Sydney Roosters.
The Panthers at the commencement of the season were labelled as no chance to win the competition. 150/1 to win, 80/1 to make the top 4 and 15/1 to make the top 8. However, on Sunday night, statistics, odds and history were proven wrong.
The Penrith squad contained many young and enthusiastic local juniors, along with a great mix of experienced campaigners. However, only two additions from the previous year, Preston Campbell and Ben Ross, had even the clubs hardened supporters becoming doubters of their capabilities.
The first weekend highlighted to supporters the passion that was going to be displayed throughout the year, with Ben Ross picking a fight with Gordon Tallis. The fight, despite being not in the spirit of league, was what really captured Penrith fans to believing something special could occur this season. That one moment was crushed the next weekend when the Panthers met and got hammered by Melbourne.
The club?s supporters were baying for blood and blamed the experienced campaigners for the defeats. However, as will go down in folklore, the Panthers played South Sydney, the game that changed the Panthers season. Over the next 22 rounds, the Panthers only lost three matches, claiming the minor premiership for only the third time in the club?s history. This got the community excited as the prospect of a grand final appearance and premiership heading West was near.
Over the weeks the Panthers defeated the Brisbane team, and an in-form Warriors team for a shot at the title. The stage was set for a fairytale ending. This team had captured the imagination and hearts of every rugby league supporter. It had people questioning ?How?? The answer was simple. Belief in each others ability, their hunger and supreme courage.
In the week leading up to the match critic?s tormented Penrith, bringing out statistics and history books to suggest why Penrith couldn?t win the title. One such critic was Phil Gould, who consistently proclaimed Penrith the over-achievers, a team that would fall ?Next Week?. Gould tipped Penrith to come last, which just shows that history is there to be broken. Many people?s hearts bled for Penrith, despite the fact that they believed the Roosters would win comfortably.
Finally, the week of ?What If?s? was over. Imaginations would come to fruition, the game with so much expectation was to be played. Would Penrith?s fairytale year be capped off with a grand final win, despite the underdog tag, or will the roosters claim consecutive premierships. These questions were answered at 8:47pm Sunday night.
The game was played at a hectic pace, faster than any origin game, despite the horrible conditions. The game was played like two tribes going to war. There were massive hits, mind boggling courage and determination, along with the blood and sweat that comes only with a game of this calibre. The game brought out the best in all players, with Penrith captain Craig Gower playing with one eye for most of the game, along with Roosters utility Michael Crocker, whom got knocked senseless twice.
The game was played amongst gladiators. Two sides with no love lost between each other brought about an exciting spectacle for all supporters, not just the respective clubs. It had moments that will be forever in rugby league folklore, such as Penrith?s Scott Sattler?s tackle on a flying Todd Byrne which saved the match for the Panthers. Finally? The result. The fairytale was complete. Cinderella had found her Prince, it was in the form of the Telstra Premiership Trophy.
People?s imaginations were captured on this fateful night at Telstra Stadium. In the horrible conditions, a pack of courageous gladiators took the field, with the Penrith tribe winning over the determined Roosters. In the best season of League in history, many have proclaimed that this was one of the greatest Grand Finals ever. One has to say that despite the game it was the circumstances surrounding it making it memorable. A team that finished near last in two consecutive seasons, winning the 2003 premiership. Penrith broke the trends that history laid down to them. They busted the statistics that proved it was impossible. They silenced their critics. They re-wrote history. Just goes to show, history can be re-written.
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