Halfback and skipper Darren Nicholls has capped a stellar season with a man-of-the-match performance to guide the Panthers to a 20-12 grand final upset win over minor premiers, Wyong Roos at Leichhardt Oval last Sunday.
“Dez” as the Penrith skipper is affectionately known as, set up two tries and had a hand in two more, in a win that now sees the pre-season competition favorites head to ANZ Stadium this Sunday to take on everyone’s second favorite team, the PNG Hunters in the NRL State Championship final, after they snatched a dramatic 12-10 victory over Sunshine Coast Falcons in the Intrust Super Cup.
While the win was especially sweet for the 28-year old halfback, who only last year experienced a heart-breaking loss in the Intrust Super Cup final with Redcliffe, Nicholls admitted that it took time to adjust to his new role upon joining Penrith at the start of this season.
“Yes really happy. A great team effort when you consider there’s been a lot of boys in and out of this side and I’m just so happy with the result,” Nicholls told Nepean News.
“This year I’ve played more of a directional role, getting the team around the park.
“I have been happy with my year, it started off slow but it’s built towards the end of the year.
Nicholls, who is arguably the best player in the Intrust Super Premiership yet to play in the NRL, says despite his age, he has not given up on his dream to play at the next level.
Whether or not that opportunity comes at Penrith remains to be seen given Nicholls remains unsigned for next season.
“The boys like to call me Uncle but playing with these young guys, it brings the best out of me,” Nicholls replied.
“This year I’ve pushed the players in front of me to play better and they did just that.
“But I’m going to keep training my heart out, play my best and if the opportunity comes (to play in the NRL) I’ll take it.”
Winning skipper Darren Nicholls is ready to steer Penrith around the park for at least one more time this Sunday. (Photos: NRL Photos).
Nicholls said the team enjoyed Penrith’s second title success in four years but echoed coach Garth Brennan’s message that there was still one more game to go.
“We enjoyed the night but “Brenno” (Garth Brennan) has pulled the reins as we still know this week’s the big one,” Nicholls declared.
“I’m expecting a very tough physical game from the PNG Hunters, but I’ll think we’ll be up for it.
“I’ve played them before and probably the only one (apart from Sitaleki Akauola) who has played them in this team.
“I know what they’ll dish up so I’ll be able to help the boys.”