Excited Panthers welcome week off
After playing sidekick to Panthers whiz kid Matt Moylan for most of the year, this time Jamie Soward took the costume, cape and the game-winning field goal, for a stunning qualifying final win over the Roosters on Saturday night.
Now, to say the Penrith skipper won the game off his own boot would be an understatement.
Minutes before his one-pointer in the final minute, Soward had piloted a sideline conversion to level the game after a miracle try that included a stunning flick from an airborn Dallin Watene-Zelezniak for Dean Whare to score.
And the player who grubbered it through in the first place? That man, Jamie Soward.
"Yeah, pretty excited," Soward began post-game. "Massive play I thought by Dallin at the end not to give up. It's part of the culture. [The Roosters] play for 80 minutes, don't matter what the score is.
"So it was a massive play. I slotted over at the end. Usually ‘Moyza' is the superman. I've had to watch him put it over. But it was nice to get one tonight."
For all of Penrith's resiliency in defying rugby league gravity – even their media manager was added to their lengthy casualty ward on Saturday night – one thing that has never wavered for this rising club is belief.
But even Soward couldn't fathom this. After steering Penrith to their first finals win in a decade, the reborn playmaker was asked whether he could believe they were now 80 minutes away from a fairytale grand final.
"Nah, not really," he admitted. "But we've got a good preparation now. We've been patching some bodies up. Nigel Plum can't get any more strapping tape on him. He's looking forward to a couple of days off.
"But I guess winning that game now, we've got to prepare, we're 80 minutes away from something we'll never forget. If the younger boys thought tonight was good, then next time around... it's the best week of your life."
Coach Ivan Cleary also admitted how he thought it was enough of an achievement for his side to get an invite to this gig, a qualifying final against the current defending and minor premiers, in the first place.
"We didn't really put limits on it [at the start of the year], but I gotta say," he began, "just absorbing the fact that we've just beaten the Roosters in a qualifying final on their own home ground... I'm very fond of the Roosters.
"Being part of the club [before], I've always admired them. I respect them very much. Just the opportunity to play here in this game was pretty cool. So to win it... I hadn't thought about it too much. Having said that, I've got to give the boys a big wrap, the whole week they weren't scared to win."
And now they'll have two weeks to get their heads around what could be a stunning grand final berth.
"They're obviously pretty excited in [the sheds] and fair enough. You can't celebrate nights like this unless you win the game," Cleary said.
"But that's 12 games in a row for us. Our last bye came quite early. I think definitely it'll be welcome physically and I suppose mentally. We've just been patching ourselves up for the next game for a long time. So we'll actually get some decent preparation, which will be nice."