From the time referee Bill Harrigan blew time on, until the siren signaled the end of 80 minutes, the rugby league world experienced one of the truly epic encounters in recent memory. The two best sides of 2003 put on a display that warranted not only a Grand Final but also a place in rugby league folklore.
When worthy Clive Churchill Medallist Luke Priddis scooped up the ball from dummy half in the 73rd minute, the footballing world held its collective breath.
Penrith Captain Craig Gower had set himself up for a second field goal attempt and everyone in Telstra Stadium and at home expected him to get the ball. However, Priddis went with his instinct and after drifting towards the blindside delivered a beautiful pass to Luke Rooney who beat a badly out of position Chris Walker and touched down.
Rooney?s second try of the night sealed the Panthers second premiership, and like its predecessor in 1991, this one was every bit as dramatic.
Priddis was outstanding, the former Canberra and Brisbane rake who had his critics after an average 2002 season, proved his worth to both club and critics with a display as brilliant as any seen.
What truly sets this game apart is the sheer quality of football displayed by both teams. Not only were the Panthers superb, the Roosters were not too far removed from their best, particularly defensively.
In short, this game is right up there for both its quality and excitement.
Only the 1989 decider when the Raiders overcame a 12-2 deficit against the Tigers, to claim victory in extra-time deserves a place above the game witnessed on Sunday Night.
For mine, having seen all Grand Finals from 1986 onwards, the Panthers and Roosters put on the second greatest game I have witnessed during that span.
It now moves past the Newcastle and Manly 1997 ARL Grand Final and into second place in my Top 3.
The Greatest Grand Finals:
1. Canberra 19 def. Balmain 14 (1989) 2. Penrith 18 def. Sydney 6 (2003) 3. Newcastle 22 def. Manly 16 (1997 ARL)
If the 2003 Season needs a reason to be remembered, then you just witnessed it.
1 Rhys WESSER 8 - Although not sighted in attack often, his play at the back was flawless despite conditions
2 Luke LEWIS 6 - Never able to inject himself into the game, yet again never put a foot wrong in defence
3 Ryan GIRDLER 7 - A serious calf injury ended his night in the 2nd half, prior to that in everything
4 Paul WHATUIRA 6 - Did his job which was defend defend defend
5 Luke ROONEY 9 - Johnny on the spot for the first and last tries of the grand final, can?t do much more
6 Preston CAMPBELL 7 - Solid in attack but it was his sideline conversion that sealed the deal for Penrith
7 Craig GOWER ? 8 - Composure held and so did his Panthers, a gritty controlled display despite eye injury
8 Joel CLINTON 7 - Willing and able all night, is gaining a reputation for motivational speaking
9 Luke PRIDDIS 10 - A game for the ages, proved that in wet conditions the dummy half is the key to victory
10 Martin LANG 8 - Copped hit after hit, yet got up and ran it again and again, proves no pain no gain
11 Joe GALUVAO 8 - Looked gone after initial exchanges due to hip, then was awesome in his 2nd half spell
12 Tony PULETUA 9 - Stood up and gave his best performance of the season, carried the Panthers pack at times
13 Scott SATTLER 9 - No one will ever forget his covering tackle on Byrne, the 31 y/o veteran earned this title
14 Ben ROSS 7 - Punishing running at the back end of the first half gave the Panthers momentum for 2nd
15 Trent WATERHOUSE 8 - Outstanding work rate and provided quality second phase play for his outside men
16 Shane RODNEY 6 - Not influential but his versatility meant the Panthers could cover Girdler?s injury easily
17 Luke SWAIN 7 - Was in la-la land for a while yet came coming and really made people take notice
1 A MINICHIELLO 6 - Three crucial mistakes off kicks overshadowed a willing performance all night
2 Todd BYRNE 4 - Some crucial errors put his side on the back foot, then failed to outrun Sattler
3 Ryan CROSS 7 - The most dangerous Rooster out wide can hold his head high
4 Shannon HEGARTY 6 - Dummy half running wasn?t enough, as Roosters missed his direct running out wide
5 Chris WALKER 3 - A horrific night for Walker, error rate killed the Roosters in the back end of the 2nd half
6 Brad FITTLER ? 7 - A good performance but Sydney needed a great one, setting up Byrne?s run was special
7 Brett FINCH 6 - Looked for runners all night and found no one to feed off his drifting style
8 Jason CAYLESS 6 - Tried hard but fumbled an easy Finch pass late which led to Rooney?s 2nd try
9 Craig WING 8 - May be harshly judged by some, but Wing was excellent throughout
10 Ned CATIC 4 - His role was to play for the first 10 minutes, he did that and wasn?t seen again
11 Adrian MORLEY 10 - Proved he is an elite big game player, was as good as Priddis in my book, just awesome
12Craig FITZGIBBON 8 - Work-rate remains incredible but he lacked any strikepower in attack
13 Luke RICKETSON 9 - Pulled off some massive hits and was in everything for the Roosters, could do no more
14 Michael CROCKER 7 - Dazed and confused after some heavy knocks, but charge down on Gower was superb
15 Andrew LOMU 4 - Not a lot of game time, but knocked on at a vital time when he was on the field
16 Chad ROBINSON 5 - Again lack of game time but he did his job while o the paddock
17 Chris FLANNERY 7 - Set up the lone Rooster try, proved his worth as the ultimate bench player
PENRITH PANTHERS 130 SYDNEY ROOSTERS 107, Bill Harrigan 9
PENRITH PANTHERS 18 Rooney 2, Priddis tries; Campbell 2, Girdler goals Defeated SYDNEY ROOSTERS 6 Hegarty try; Fitzgibbon goal @ Telstra Stadium Ref: Bill Harrigan Crowd 81,166Like