We are all West­ies for the week

Pan­thers leg­ends call for all NSW fans to be­come west­ies

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - - Front Page - DEAN RITCHIE

PEN­RITH greats have a spe­cial call for Syd­neysiders to help the Pan­thers crush the Mel­bourne Storm.

“Syd­ney fans should be­come a Westie – get your Ug­gies out.

Ev­ery­one loves a bat­tler and Pen­rith have had plenty of bat­tles over the years,” said Scott Sat­tler, Pen­rith’s 2003 grand fi­nal hero.

PEN­RITH Pan­thers greats have called on the peo­ple of NSW to unite be­hind a com­mon cause and be­come proud west­ies for the week.

The Pan­thers se­cured their spot in the NRL grand fi­nal af­ter they beat Souths 20-16 in a thrilling pre­lim­i­nary fi­nal at Syd­ney’s ANZ Sta­dium on Sat­ur­day.

Mel­bourne Storm are fac­ing the Pan­thers and Pen­rith leg­ends Greg Alexan­der, Craig Gower and Scott Sat­tler want league fans to jump on­board the band­wagon of the team from Western Syd­ney.

“Syd­ney fans should be­come a westie for the day — get your Ug­gies out. Ev­ery­one loves a bat­tler and Pen­rith have had plenty of bat­tles over the years,” said Sat­tler, Pen­rith’s 2003 grand fi­nal hero. “It be­comes state ver­sus state doesn’t it? I re­ally have a deep re­spect for the Storm but I can’t see many Mel­bourne fans be­ing in the crowd given the bor­ders are closed.”

The Storm are in their third grand fi­nal in four years, but this time, for NSW sup­port­ers, it’s worse than usual — de­spite be­ing based in Vic­to­ria the Storm have spent the sec­ond half of the sea­son play­ing out of Queens­land.

The Storm will have strong sup­port from both states, mak­ing it even more im­por­tant for the Pan­thers to feel the love from NSW — from the city’s west to the Shire and out through the re­gions.

Fans Ta­nia Jes­sup, 41, her daugh­ter Pa­tri­cia, 12, and part­ner Paul Coles, 42, were on Sun­day “hun­gover on emo­tion” and ec­static to at­tend what will be their first grand fi­nal.

“We were lost for words. We were a mess at the game and me and my daugh­ter both cried. Es­pe­cially given ev­ery­thing this year. It means a lot. We’ve gone through so much con­tro­versy and to pull through and come out on top is phe­nom­e­nal,” she said.

The Mort­dale res­i­dent — who spent Sun­day adorn­ing her house in Pan­thers colours — said she had “a feel­ing” the team would make an in­cred­i­ble come­back this year af­ter a hor­ror start fea­tur­ing Ty­rone May’s sex tape scan­dal and Nathan Cleary’s COVID-19 breach. “They’ve re­ally stepped up and banded to­gether,” she said.

Vet­eran Pan­thers fan and Emu Plains res­i­dent Kevin Pip­pen, 84, who has fol­lowed the team since he at­tended their in­au­gu­ral game against Can­ter­bury at Bel­more Oval back in 1967, said Sat­ur­day’s win was “un­be­liev­able” and he was “in­cred­i­bly proud” to see the boys climb to the top.

“Hav­ing their 17th win in a row is un­be­liev­able for any team and a record of it­self. It was a real bat­tle last night but they got there.”

If the Pan­thers do win it

will be their 18th straight vic­tory, set­ting a new NRL-era record.

Ei­ther way the game will be a his­toric event for the Craig fam­ily — it marks the first time Cathy Craig’s 16 grand­kids will see Pen­rith in a grand fi­nal.

Grand­son Eli­jah Craig, 12, will be there at ANZ Sta­dium in his Pan­thers jersey cheer­ing the club on. “I was so happy af­ter last night. I knew be­fore the game that no mat­ter what the re­sult was, I would be cry­ing and I’m just glad they were happy tears.”

With the Queens­land and Vic­to­rian bor­ders still closed, Pen­rith fans — whether they are life­long or tem­po­rary — are ex­pected to dom­i­nate the 40,000 crowd.

“We are the only Syd­ney side re­main­ing in the com­pe­ti­tion so it would be great to see 40,000 fans there sup­port­ing Pen­rith,” said Alexan­der, ar­guably Pen­rith’s great­est player.

“Mel­bourne will have some Syd­ney fans at the game but there won’t be any travel from Vic­to­ria or Queens­land. It’s been 17 years since Pen­rith has been in a grand fi­nal so hope­fully fans get out there to sup­port the NSW team.”

Gower, who cap­tained the Pan­thers’ 2003 ti­tle win­ners, said non-Pen­rith fans should cast aside their own club pas­sion. “Why not sup­port the Syd­ney team? We should have a fair crowd out there full of Pen­rith fans,” he said.

Pen­rith hopes to start grand fi­nal week on a high on Mon­day with Nathan Cleary the favourite to win his first Dally M Medal — the high­est in­di­vid­ual award in the NRL.

The Pan­thers boast a big fan base and will have heavy­weight sup­port tun­ing in from around the world.

Among them is surf­ing great Mick Fan­ning who was born in Pen­rith and be­came a pas­sion­ate fan in 1990 when the Pan­thers played Can­berra in the grand fi­nal.

Fan­ning is in Cal­i­for­nia on business and tuned in at 1.30am to watch the Pan­thers’ pre­lim­i­nary fi­nal win. “A lot of peo­ple are say­ing they haven’t played big games but Cleary has won Ori­gin se­ries. He’s so com­posed in those big mo­ments,” Fan­ning said

Pic­ture: Brett Costello

Nathan Cleary checks out the NRL Premier­ship tro­phy with his fa­ther and coach Ivan Cleary.

Pic­ture: Richard Dob­son

Long serv­ing fan Kevin Pip­pen, 84, who was at Pen­rith’s very first game in 1967.

Pic­ture: Richard Dob­son

Diehard Pen­rith fans Ta­nia Jes­sup, her part­ner Paul Coles and 12-yearold daugh­ter, Pa­tri­cia Jes­sup with their team­posters and a gi­ant cutout of Pan­thers star Brian To’o.

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