Breakthrough moment: Panthers emerge from doldrums to claim 2003 title

Scott Sattler and Rhys Wesser with the 2003 premiership trophy.
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Penrith’s 18-6 Grand Final triumph over the Sydney Roosters on October 5, 2003, was one of the most magical days in club history.

Despite finishing the regular season as Minor Premiers, Penrith still went into the decider against the Roosters as underdogs.

It was no surprise, perhaps, given this Penrith side had finished last just two years earlier, and didn’t make the Finals in 2002. Many simply didn’t believe the Panthers had what it took.

But in front of a crowd of 81,166 at a very wet Telstra Stadium, the ‘men in black’ were simply superb and produced memories that will last a lifetime.

The game – which is regarded by many as one of the greatest rugby league Grand Finals in history – produced highlight after highlight, with Scott Sattler’s remarkable try-saving cover tackle on Roosters winger Todd Byrne still talked about to this day.

Penrith winger Luke Rooney won the hearts of many on the back of his two-try performance, while eventual Clive Churchill Medallist Luke Priddis not only set up two tries that evening but bagged one himself in an heroic effort in sluggish conditions.

Fan favourite Ryan Girdler, who limped off injured in the second half, summed up the enormity of the occasion on behalf of all Panthers players and supporters.

“We’ve been here through the bad times, and that’s what makes it so special,” he said.

Interviewed by Nine’s Andrew Voss as the siren sounded in the background, coach John Lang declared: “I just hope I don’t wake up tomorrow and it’s still Sunday”.

Tony Puletua with the trophy in 2003. Photo: Action Photographics.

Penrith partied for days following the club’s second Grand Final win, and thousands turned out on November 28 to celebrate one last time with a victory parade through the city’s streets, before the off-season officially began.

Earlier this year, most of the 2003 Grand Final team gathered in Penrith to celebrate the club’s famous win 20 years prior.

In an interview with the Weekender back in May, two-try hero Luke Rooney said he’s still a fan of the team and loves watching games alongside his son, who is a Panthers fanatic.

“Yes, I still support them and, even though I live in Melbourne, my son is a mad Panthers supporter,” the 40-year-old said.

“We both watch all the games and the last two years have been unbelievable especially.”

Luke Rooney scores in the 2003 Grand Final. Photo: NRL Images.

Luke Priddis, who was crowned Man of the Match, said he’s one of many players who have never watched the entire game back.

“I don’t think most blokes would have watched it from start to finish… there’s enough stuff on social media that summarises the game pretty well and I was lucky enough to be a part of it,” he said.

“Whenever you win a Grand Final, it’s always something special that you cherish.”

Nathan Taylor

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.

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