No Penrith player has been waiting for Sunday night’s NRL grand final longer than Josh Mansour, who has ridden the rollercoaster for nine years at the Panthers.
Josh Mansour isn’t too proud to admit that he cried in the middle of ANZ Stadium when Penrith made the grand final.
“It was just the journey itself, everything hit me at once,” Mansour told AAP.
Because when it comes to journeys at the Panthers, the Penrith winger’s is up there with the best of them.
The 30-year-old has been at the club for nine years, their longest-serving first-grade player.
In that time since being knocked back by South Sydney and picked up by Penrith in 2012, he has been there for everything.
All except for a grand final – and that will finally come against Melbourne on Sunday.
“It’s a lot of emotion,” Mansour said.
“The boys were like, ‘why are you crying?’ and I was like, ‘I don’t know!’ I was just so happy.
“We worked so hard to get to this position. Honestly. We were riding the lows last year and now we’re just embracing every win.”
In Mansour’s first full season, he rode the wave to within one win of a grand final. It was enough to earn him Kangaroos selection.
Then Penrith bottomed out. Injuries befell them in 2015 and Ivan Cleary was sacked as coach.
Three successive semi-final disappointments followed, another coach’s exit and, amid it all, a badly injured knee and the kind of facial damage usually reserved for car crash victims.
None of that, however, compared to the torment of 2019 experienced by the club, when teammates were plunged into scandal and Mansour was briefly dropped after the team’s horror start to the year.
Now, finally, Mansour is getting his reward.
“It makes everything worthwhile,” he said.
“Last year was rock bottom. To have the year we’re having, I’m so grateful to be in this position and part of this team.
“It’s been one of the hardest years in terms of COVID and our training. Everyone is buying into the culture at our club.”
A challenge does, however, await on Sunday.
Mansour will be charged with stopping Suliasi Vunivalu and Melbourne’s dangerous left side, after they helped tear Canberra to shreds last week.
Sunday night will be Vunivalu’s NRL swansong before he heads to the 15-man game, with the impressive strike rate of 85 tries in 110 games.
“Big Suli, he is a very athletic Fijian,” Mansour said.
“I have to be on my game there. He is an aerial threat and such a good finisher of tries. Defensively we have to be very good.”