After everything was said and done, it was the teams ranked first and second who remain to do battle in the NRL grand final.
The Penrith Panthers had only won the minor premiership twice, in both years they also lifted the Provan-Summons Trophy, meaning this 2020 outfit is halfway there.
Securing first place on the NRL ladder is not the only similarity between these Panthers and the past two premiership squads. An analysis highlights that using homegrown talent, having an elite halfback and a young core are undeniable correlations between the three sides.
The Penrith Junior District Rugby League (PJDRL) has always been a haven for producing rugby league talent. In fact, last year the district broke a 52-year-old record registering the most players and teams in NSW. The club itself invested 5.5 million dollars into the growth of their grassroots clubs and the promotion of the Country Rugby League (CRL).
The first Panther premiership team in 1991 was littered with homegrown talent. Arguably the most important players to that team: Greg Alexander, Brad Fittler and Mark Geyer, not only played for Penrith junior clubs but were born there.
The 2003 premiership team was hardly different: Craig Gower, Luke Priddis and Ryan Girdler were imperative to their side’s success, in addition to growing up in the Penrith district and coming through the junior ranks.
Nathan Cleary as well as young guns Stephen Crichton and Jerome Luai headline the 2020 team’s showcase of Panthers juniors to take the league by storm.
Furthermore, the Panthers’ investment into the CRL has paid off with nine out of the 27 players in this year’s squad coming areas such as Bathurst, Forbes and Dubbo, including four-try debutant Charlie Staines.
One distinct feature for all three Panthers teams is having commanding halfback, arguably one of the best in the competition at the time. Alexander was awarded the Dally M halfback of the year, leading his team in points during the 1991 season.
Gower steered the 2003 Panthers to an 80 per cent-win rate and was in line to win the Dally M player of the year if not for the player boycott.
Although having played two seasons less than Gower and Alexander at the time of their premierships, Cleary’s resume speaks for itself. The incumbent NSW halfback led his Panthers squad to a 90 per cent-win record, breaking a 60-year-old record.
Cleary is also a heavy favourite to win the Dally M Medal, hoping to join Alexander as the only other Panthers recipient.
A young core is also a common trait, all three had an average age of 24, with a healthy balance of youth and leadership in their teams.
The 1991 Panthers faced a Canberra Raiders juggernaut looking to land their third premiership in as many years, it seems fate that the 2020 Panthers could come up against a Roosters side looking to do the exact same.
If history is any guide, it will be the Panthers’ who emerge victorious.