Panthers Grand Final co-captain Isaah Yeo believes last year’s heartbreak and the experiences of the past season will give his side the edge they need to win Penrith its elusive third Premiership.
13 Panthers will play in their second consecutive NRL decider this Sunday evening in Brisbane, while the Rabbitohs will run out just four players – Adam Reynolds, Alex Johnston, Tom Burgess and Benji Marshall – who have experienced the thrill of a Grand Final before.
Speaking with the Weekender, Yeo said Penrith’s disappointing loss to Melbourne last October paved the way to where the group is today.
“I think overall the experience helps, not just the Grand Final itself, but getting to that point last year,” he said.
“As a group there’s players who have played in bigger games since then like Origin and that sort of stuff, so I think that helps the experience too.
“It’s a fact that we’re such an inexperienced side still that I think even an extra year of first grade under our belts has helped us.”
While the Panthers went on an historic run to Grand Final Day last year, it all fell apart in the game that mattered most with an experienced Melbourne outfit tearing them to shreds in the first half and ultimately winning.
Yeo said while the result was painful at the time, it could be the fuel they need to get them through the second time around.
“The loss was obviously disappointing but you had to win big games to get to that Grand Final last year and, as much as we didn’t perform like we would have liked to, I think we’ve definitely got better with the experience we’ve had over the next nine or 10 months,” he said.
“I feel like that hold us in good stead, obviously you still have to go out and perform on the weekend, but I feel like we’re in a better spot than we were last year in terms of that experience.”
Alongside fellow skipper Nathan Cleary, Yeo will have the privilege of captaining his first ever NRL Grand Final. A natural-born leader since arriving from Dubbo as a teenager nearly a decade ago, the Dally M Lock of the Year said it’ll be an “honour” to lead out the Panthers on Sunday night.
“It’s something myself and Nathan are very proud of,” the 26-year-old said.
“We’re obviously very close with our families and I know it’s something both the Yeos and the Clearys are definitely proud of as well.
“It’s an absolute honour… I don’t think much changes with how we’ve performed throughout the season, you just try and lead by example and do your best. I’m sure we’ll be doing that this weekend.”
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 a decade.