Despite being the home town team, Penrith Panthers Premiership-winning reserve grade captain Darren Nicholls knows his side won’t have many fans supporting them when they battle the PNG Hunters this Sunday in the NRL State Championship.
The curtain raiser to the NRL Grand Final, the State Championship is contested between the winners of the Intrust Super Premiership NSW and Queensland Cup competitions.
With Penrith overcoming Wyong 20-12 in last Sunday’s Grand Final and PNG defeating Sunshine Coast 12-10 in their decider – both sides will now go head to head at ANZ Stadium to be crowned the best of the best.
Panthers halfback and Grand Final Man of the Match winner Darren Nicholls said his side had to put a lid on post-match celebrations early to prepare for another important game this weekend.
“Our coach Garth Brennan let us celebrate that night back at the Leagues Club, where we all stuck together, had a few drinks and a chat,” he told the Weekender.
“We had to keep a bit of a lid on it because we knew there was another big game coming up this Sunday.”
Nicholls, a former player in the Queensland Cup before linking up with Penrith this season, knows exactly what the boys from PNG are all about, having played against them in years’ past.
“PNG have a massive, massive supporter base because they are playing for their country,” Nicholls said.
“We went into last weekend’s Grand Final as underdogs and this Sunday everyone will be on the PNG bandwagon. We don’t mind that, I think it’s good for rugby league that PNG have made it there but we’re going out to spoil their party.”
Nicholls said PNG bring a real toughness to a game. With their strong runs and hard tackles, it’s their physicality and effort that stands them above the rest.
“PNG have a very good coach and are very well disciplined – they’ll be ready,” Nicholls said.
“We’ll sit down this week and watch some video to see where their weaknesses lie.”
The Penrith Panthers will take on the PNG Hunters at ANZ Stadium this Sunday at 3.40pm.
Nathan Taylor is the Western Weekender’s award-winning sports journalist. Nathan is also the Weekender’s Deputy Editor.