2003 Grand Final: A night we’ll never forget

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It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years since Penrith lifted the trophy at what was then Telstra Stadium after claiming an 18-6 victory over the Sydney Roosters at the 2003 Grand Final.

Much like Penrith’s 2021 title success, the victory in 2003 came after a period of struggle for the club, making victory that night taste even sweeter. Indeed, only two years earlier Penrith were wooden spooners, and they missed the top eight in 2002.

There are so many great memories from that night.

During the 80 minutes, the obvious: Scott Sattler’s tackle, Luke Priddis’ dominant performance out of dummy half and Luke Rooney’s two tries.

In the aftermath: John Lang’s absolute emotion on the sideline, Greg Alexander’s sheer elation as he celebrated with the current-day players, and the wild celebrations back at the Leagues Club, and at the stadium the next day.

Luke Priddis with the 2003 NRL trophy.

For me that 2003 Grand Final remains probably the most memorable of Penrith’s four Premierships. I was too young to really celebrate and remember 1991 (even though I’ve now watched that Grand Final probably more than any other), and as special as 2021 and 2022 were, you never forget the one that feels like your first.

I remember I almost didn’t get to the game. I didn’t have tickets, and after Penrith beat the Warriors in the Preliminary Final I said to my girlfriend at the time (a new Panthers fan just along for the ride) that we’d watch the game on TV next week.

She couldn’t believe it and by the time the next morning rolled around, I’d come to my senses and was in desperation mode needing to attend the game. We went to the movies in the city that night and I remember going to an Internet café on George Street, scouring eBay looking for tickets. I found two, placed a bid and hoped for the best while we went off to watch a now long-forgotten movie.

John and Martin Lang celebrate the 2003 Grand Final.

I won the bid, picked up the tickets off a bloke in Eastern Creek and prayed all week they weren’t counterfeit.

What a night it was in the rain.

In the years that followed Penrith’s 2003 triumph, the players from that day would slowly exit the NRL – going on to other ventures, some moving interstate or even overseas. And during those 20 years I’ve been lucky enough to cross paths and even work closely with some of the 2003 boys. Back then, I would have thought it unimaginable.

The fact that most of the team is back in Penrith today for a reunion ahead of tonight’s clash with the Roosters is extra special. There’ll be plenty of beers, plenty of stories and a reminder of the unique bond the group has.

Let’s hope the result on the field replicates what happened two decades ago on a wet October Sunday.

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