Penrith's 5-year plan built on 7-minute secret
Panthers rookie Dallin Watene-Zelezniak only had one thing in mind when Roosters halfback Mitchell Pearce crossed for a go-ahead try in the 73rd minute of Saturday night's qualifying final at Allianz.
Of all the distractions the first year pro could have, he had just one thing stapled across his mind: there were seven minutes left.
The 19-year-old whizkid had been pinged moments before by referee Henry Perenara for a dropped ball on play one that put the home side front-and-centre of the sticks. Next thing he knew he was behind the posts and staring at what looked like a match-clinching six-point deficit.
"I just thought that I can't change the call, the ref already called it. I just thought I had to do something to make up for what I did," he recalled post-game.
"I didn't feel like I lost it for the team. I felt like I had to give something back."
And boy did he ever. With the match on tenterhooks and the Panthers back in the Roosters' end-zone, Panthers playmaker Jamie Soward let fly on a grubber that looked destined to go into the first row of the grandstand.
And that's where 300-game celebrant Anthony MInichiello thought it was going too, as he looked to shadow the ball into touch.
But out of nowhere screamed this freakish teenager, airborn and aerodynamic, flicking the ball back with his entire body out of play for centre partner Dean Whare to set up the match-levelling conversion from the sideline.
As far as paybacks go, this Gen-Y kid pays back with interest.
"When it happened, I was like, I didn't know. I hope I stayed in. Watching the replay, I was like, 'oh I did stay in!' It was pretty much a fluke," he said.
"At training, we do little flick passes and that, but I never thought I'd use it in the game."
It wasn't far off the Hail Mary that Whare produced himself for the Kiwis in their memorable semi-final win over England last November.
"That's what I said to him," Watene-Zelezniak said. "I've been watching too much of him at the World Cup."
If there was a player or moment that typified Penrith's never-say-die attitude against the defending premiers on Saturday night, then it was summarised in Watene-Zelezniak, who would've been forgiven for kicking stones behind the posts after what Pearce's clutch try close to time.
But this was not what the Panthers had trained for, with the local junior revealing a rather significant highlighted note from Penrith's five-year plan.
"[But] we regrouped behind the post and we just thought we had seven minutes," he said.
"A goal of ours from last year too, was our seven minute period before the start of the game, before halftime, and after halftime, and at the end of the game... we finish strong.
"And I think that's what we kept relaying to each other. We worked hard for that seven minutes."