October 5 2003 was not just another day. For me it was about making the nervous trek to Stadium Australia. Penrith’s third appearance at a Grand Final was only hours away. I walked into the Penrith Panthers Leagues Club around 10am in the morning. The Sports Bar was packed with Panther fans donning the famous black strip with “Sanyo” across the front.
Drink number one down and it was time to heard for the journey to Homebush by bus. It was a cloudy day and the signs for wet weather footy were ominous.
I remember stop number two was at a pub just one hundred metres from the Stadium where I caught up with fellow Panther fans getting ready for the big game.
Penrith faced Canberra in a lower grade Grand Final earlier in the day where the Raiders won. But as night started to fall and the rain continued to come down steadily, the Hoodoo Goorus belted out the “What’s My Team” that was the NRL Anthem for 2003.
Finally Bill Harrigan blew time on for the biggest game of the season. And early on a good friend of QLDPanthers, Martin Lang, was almost knocked out by England International Adrian Morley as he carted the ball forward. On half an hour Panther great Luke Priddis found twenty-year old Luke Rooney to put his team six points up going into the final forty minutes.
The second half would be one of the most dramatic forty minutes in Penrith Panthers history. With scores level at six-all, Sydney Roosters Todd Byrne was in open space along the touchline. Scott Sattler, determined to catch the flying winger made the covering tackle in a game changing moment. Luke Priddis continued his great night stretching from dummy half to give back the lead to Penrith. And with seven minutes to go the trophy was heading back west with Rooney again combining with Priddis for the match winning try.
My tears of jubilation. Warriors fans sitting with me in the nose bleed section were celebrating our club’s win! The ultimate accolade for Priddis with the awarding of the Clive Churchill Medal.
And to my Roosters mate, you still owe me that bottle of bourbon.
Ten years on we salute the Penrith Panthers great team led by local junior Craig Gower, coach John Lang and those who contributed to the 2003 Premiership from a hopeless position earlier in the season languishing near bottom of the ladder.
Our Holden Cup Under 20’s team led by Bryce Cartwright and coached by Gareth Brennan get their chance to follow in the footsteps of these Panther legends almost ten years to the day of our second first grade premiership. Let’s hope the boys can do it!