Young Panther's dream season
It's been a big year for Dean Blore. A really big year, in fact. And it's only going to get bigger.
The Hills Sports High School student started 2016 in the prestigious SG Ball competition where he helped guide the Penrith Panthers to both the NSW and National Championships.
He then earned selection in the Australian Schoolboys side for the two-Test series against a touring English Academy side, scoring a try in the second match as the green and golds ran out 2-0 series winners.
But his biggest achievement has been stepping into Penrith's Holden Cup side to steer them to Sunday's grand final – their second decider in a row.
Blore harboured no ambitions of representing the Panthers at the start of the year, convinced that his time would come down the track.
Little did he know that star half Nathan Cleary would move up to first grade and that Jarome Luai would miss the final six games of the season through suspension, thus paving the way for him to step into the most coveted jersey in the NYC.
The 18-year-old has looked right at home in his eight Holden Cup matches, scoring two tries and setting up four more, including an inside ball for the opener in Penrith's 32-16 preliminary final win over North Queensland.
"It's been a rollercoaster year but it's been a mad journey," he told NRL.com following Friday afternoon's win.
"I've enjoyed every minute of it coming up from SG Ball. It's just a learning experience for me now. I'm picking up something new at training and with every game I play.
"I've learnt a lot off my coach, Cameron Ciraldo. Nathan has been up in first grade so I haven't spent much time with him, but Jarome has been a massive help for me this year and I'm really grateful for what he's done.
"We played a few games together earlier in the year and he just took control in the big moments."
Blore has the chance to be a part of history as the Panthers look to join the Warriors as the only teams in Holden Cup history to win back-to-back titles when they take on the Roosters in Sunday's grand final.
Penrith has defeated the Tricolours twice already in 2016, but Blore said grand final success wasn't spoken about leading into last week's game against the Cowboys.
"We didn't really speak about the grand final and the possibility of going back-to-back. We were more focused on our own individual performances," he said.
With the level-headed halfback at the helm, Penrith will go into the decider as warm favourites, and while victory would cap off an incredible 12-month journey, Blore said none of it would have been possible without the support of those close to him.
"You don't get far without family and friends so I can't thank them enough for the support they showed," he said. "Without them I don't think I'd be here."