It’s been a tough few months for western Sydney. In fact, no one’s probably experienced the trials and tribulations of the COVID-19 lockdown more than us folk out west.
Thankfully rugby league has been somewhat of a saviour throughout this long, drawn out winter – giving locals something to look forward to each weekend in what’s become a rather depressing and mundane existence.
Now with Penrith the last western Sydney team remaining in the 2021 NRL Finals, it’s down to the Panthers to continue flying the flag for the west and hopefully give us all something to look forward to for at least another week.
Speaking from the Sunshine Coast via Zoom on Tuesday, proud western Sydney resident Jarome Luai said he would love nothing more than to give local supporters doing it tough the best ‘jab’ of all – an NRL Premiership.
“The majority of our team are based in that area and we sort of grew up in western Sydney as well,” he told the Weekender.
“Every time we put on this jersey we feel like we are representing where we come from. We play with our area on our sleeves every weekend and we know they are behind us, so this one is for you guys.”
Panthers and western Sydney footy fans in general will be glued to the couch this Saturday afternoon hoping Luai and his troops can continue their historic 2021 campaign and qualify for next weekend’s NRL Grand Final.
Since October 25 last year, Penrith supporters have been dreaming of another crack at Melbourne on the big stage and they’ll finally get their wish with the competition’s two top teams set to do battle for a place in the 2021 decider.
Luai said he and his teammates have also been eager for a rematch with last year’s Premiers, hoping to finally accomplish the mission they were unable to last season.
“We’re pretty keen,” the 24-year-old said of his excitement to play the Storm.
“We all sort of knew to get a premiership Melbourne were going to be in our way at some point down the track. We’re facing them this week and, like I said, we’re pretty hyped and ready to go.”
Many believe that if Penrith don’t get the job done this weekend and don’t go on to win an elusive premiership, that it will be regarded as a failure of a season.
Luai, who made his State of Origin debut earlier this year, said season 2021 will be regarded as a success for the club no matter the result on Saturday.
“Definitely it’s a success,” he said emphatically.
“I think it’s an exciting time for any club to be at this point in the season. This is where the business end is; this is what we all work for; this is what we all dreamt about as young kids to be in this position.
“We’ve got a beautiful opportunity in front of us and hopefully we can make the most of that.”
And western Sydney hopes the Panthers can too.
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.