KICK OFF: 3:45PM SUNDAY OCTOBER 6 ANZ STADIUM
BY PETER LANG
After seven months of blood, sweat and tears the Penrith Panthers Under 20’s team have made it to the big dance. They will play the Vodafone Junior Warriors this Sunday for the right to be crowned the 2013 NYC Holden Cup Premiers. Their opponent is a side which may have finished sixth after 26 rounds of the season but have demolished the Rabbitohs, Roosters and Bulldogs over the last three weeks to book their place in the Grand Final.
This is also the third time in four years the Junior Warriors have made the big end of season game, while it will be the Panthers first.
However Penrith have also reached the Grand Final in fine form with two outstanding wins against the Roosters and minor premiers Canberra.
None of those stats of course will account for anything when both teams take to the field on Sunday. What has gone before is no more, what lies ahead is what’s important.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step and it begun for the Panthers with seven straight wins to kick off the 2013 season.
So good was the team travelling that from round eight onwards, several of the side’s most promising players including Bryce Cartwright, George Jennings, Daniel Foster and Kieran Moseley were all elevated into the NSW Cup team and got a taste of what it’s like to play against men for the next three months.
Six weeks ago all those players were bought back into the NYC side and Penrith haven’t lost a game since.
For the Panthers no one has been more impressive than 2013 Dally M NYC Holden Cup Player of the Year Bryce Cartwright. The second-row sensation has been like a one-man wrecking machine, gaining plenty of metres up the centre of the field and out wide, popping passes to players and making breaks at will.
Cartwright can also kick goals and change a game single-handedly. He deserves his award and then some. Of course he’s been well supported by a player with plenty of first grade experience in James Roberts. Roberts has been a steady influence in the centres with his speed and positional play always a highlight.
Up front Reagan Campbell Gillard has been solid, while fellow prop Andy Saunders has been a real metre-eater in every game.
The other great thing about Penrith’s forward pack is their ability to run at space and make plenty of yards up the middle of the ruck.
The loss of Chris Smith with a dislocated elbow last weekend is a real blow to the side but Mitch Clark stepped up and filled the void and had his best game of the season.
Once again, the halves pairing of Hewitt and Foster were brilliant against the Green Machine with Hewitt carving them up to score a late solo try which sealed the win. Make no mistake, the Panthers NYC class of 2013 is a very special side bursting with talent and brimming with enthusiasm.
Their opponents however cannot be taken lightly. For the Junior Warriors, hookers Siliva Havili and Eko Malu are both survivors of the club’s second NYC title in 2011. They are experienced campaigners who are well supported by one of the competitions best five-eighth’s in Tuimola Lolohea.
The Warriors forward pack is simply awesome and has the strength and size to steam-roll over smaller opposition packs. The Panthers pack may not be quite as big but whatever they lack in size, they make up for in skill and a high work-rate. During the season, the two games between these sides ended up at one-a-piece. So no advantage can be taken there.
There’s no doubt rugby league is a game where statistics matter. You can be caught out and dropped from a team if you’re individual stats don’t add up and you don’t make enough yards, line-breaks or tackles but in the last game of the season, it’s not going to be just statistics that wins you the contest.
It will be things like determination, commitment and the little but vital organ that beats just beneath your club’s emblem. Skill will only get you so far….the will to never give in…to never give up…those crucial qualities… will get you the rest of the way.
Let’s Go PANTHERS!
Penrith Panthers by 8.
PENRITH PANTHERS NYC TEAM 1. Kieran MOSS, 2. Dallin WATENE ZELEZNIAK, 3. Waqa BLAKE 4.James ROBERTS, 5. George JENNINGS, 6. Doug HEWITT, 7. Daniel FOSTER (C) 8. Andy SAUNDERS, 9. Kieran MOSELEY, 10. Reagan CAMPBELL-GILLARD 11. Bryce CARTWRIGHT, 12. James DUNLEY, 13. Brendan ATTWOOD
INTERCHANGE: 14. Mitch CLARK, 15. Tekina VAILEA, 16. Iain RICCARDI, 17. Isaah YEO, 18. Geordie Connelly
COACH: Garth Brennan