Long-time Panthers winger Josh Mansour knows he may not have many more opportunities to play in a Grand Final. That’s why Saturday night’s game against South Sydney is the most important of his life.
While many of his teammates are only beginning their careers and will likely have several chances to challenge for a title, the 30-year-old stalwart doesn’t have that same luxury as he enters his twilight years.
“I’m not going to lie… it’s crossed my mind. Looking at the group we have the average age is 24-25, so they have their whole careers ahead of them. For me and a couple of the senior boys, it’s just a natural way for us to think,” the 156-game veteran said on Monday.
“I know I don’t have that much time left in the NRL, but I’m not really thinking about that right now.
“You just have to appreciate the opportunity in front of you, there’s nothing I take for granted for what’s happened this year with us.”
While some clubs – including this weekend’s opponents Souths – are involved in Preliminary Finals year after year, the Panthers haven’t appeared in a Grand Final qualifier since 2014.
As it happens, Mansour is the only surviving player from the ‘patched up’ Panthers side that went down to the Canterbury Bulldogs 18-12.
Mansour said he remembers that heartbreaking loss on September 27, 2014, like it was yesterday.
“I remember it all… it was a disaster,” he said.
“I remember we were pretty confident heading into the game. No disrespect to the Bulldogs, but I thought we had the better team on the day but they were resilient and ended up holding us out to get the win.”
Just like they did six years ago at ANZ Stadium, Penrith will go into Saturday’s night clash against the Rabbitohs as favourites and with the same coach in Ivan Cleary.
Mansour said Cleary’s been monitoring every member of his roster very closely this past week, looking out for one thing in particular.
“He’s looking for complacency and none of the boys have been showing that,” he said.
“We didn’t want to take our foot off the pedal during the week off, so we trained really hard. In fact, one of the toughest sessions we’ve done all year was on this paddock (Panthers Stadium) last week.
“Again, it’s just all about training hard, keeping the momentum rolling and the biggest thing… not getting complacent.”
While Panthers supporters have been feeling anxious, bordering on sick, all week, the players are thankfully in a much more positive mindset ahead of tomorrow’s blockbuster.
“I haven’t seen any nerves to be totally honest,” Mansour said.
“Everyone’s just so happy and excited – that’s the main emotions I’ve been seeing.
“It’s been a good couple of days to relax and refresh the body, now it’s back to work and hopefully we can get the result on the weekend.”
If Penrith do manage to knock off the Rabbitohs on Saturday, expect a monster game from Mansour who’s prepared to leave nothing left in the tank.
Nathan Taylor is the Weekender’s Deputy Editor and Senior Sports Writer. He also compiles the weekly Chatter on the Box TV column. Nathan is an award-winning journalist, who has worked at the Weekender for nearly a decade.