All things aside, the simple demographics of the upper-class Eastern Suburbs and the working class west of Penrith make this clash a mouth-watering one in the stands. Add in the spice of a grand final anniversary and a number of big name player transfers over the years and you’ve got two quality rivals.
This year, both teams are celebrating the 10 year anniversary of the Panthers second premiership success in 2003, a victory over the Roosters who were in one of the most dominant periods of their history. That success was one of great satisfaction to the boys from Penrith, who were forced to invest heavily in their junior resources after struggling in the years prior (including a wooden spoon in 2001). The game was played in constant rainfall, setting the scene for a fairytale style victory as the hard toiling Panthers took down the flashy Roosters, and included one of the most inspiring grand final moments when 31 year old Scott Sattler chased down Roosters winger Todd Byrne and tackled him into touch at a critical moment in the game. It turned the momentum, with Penrith scoring shortly after to take the lead and go on to win.
The story of this rivalry is made more intriguing by two high-profile player movements in the past 20 years. The first of these was played out in 2003, eight seasons after Roosters captain Brad Fittler had moved east with coach Phil Gould in 1996. Fittler was the golden child of the west, having debuted for NSW and Australia as a teenager as well as winning a premiership with Penrith in 1991. Whilst he is now held as a legend of Penrith rugby league, sentiment towards him around the move was very negative and has long caused angst between the two clubs.
Gould’s move back to Penrith in 2011 after a tenure at the Roosters as head coach and coaching director reignited the rivalry to a degree, until the last off-season. Amongst a plethora of high-quality recruits, Panthers junior and State of Origin centre Michael Jennings decided to move east, taking up a contract with the Roosters after being released from Penrith. After a chequered off-field past at Penrith, Jennings has been a star for the Tricolours this season, and is sure to be the talking point of Sunday’s game.
While much of the attention will centre on Jennings’ move east, the rivalry and history between these two clubs is certain to provide a spectacular backdrop for this clash, as the flashy, up-market Roosters take on the working class Panthers ten years on from their memorable victory. It could just be the perfect setting for a repeat of the game, particularly with so many mates who played for both clubs reliving memories from not so long ago.
Jim Beam Smooth Move of the Week
It was the biggest play of possibly the game of the year - after an intense yet cagey first half Greg Inglis burst the game open within the first minute of the second half, busting through the line and pushing away Brett Stewart to score a 60m solo try and set Souths on their way.