Uncanny shades of 91 and 03 drive Panthers

The current crop of Panthers hope to be celebrating after Sunday's NRL grand final against Melbourne
The current crop of Panthers hope to be celebrating after Sunday's NRL grand final against Melbourne

What do Penrith's 1991 premiership winners, 2003 victors and their current side trying to beat Melbourne in Sunday's NRL grand final have in common?

Almost everything.

"It just blows your mind, there are so many similarities," Luke Lewis, whose team went from outside the eight in 2002 to winners in 2003, told AAP.

"We just had so much belief in winning, they look the exact same."

Call it the trademarks needed for Penrith to win, from the academy to the coaches' box and on the field.

Or perhaps it's just destiny.

It starts with the father-son combination and just keeps going, from John and Martin Lang in 2003 to Ivan and Nathan Cleary today.

Phil Gould didn't have a son in the 1991 team, but the club's founding father Merv Cartwright did with John.

All three coaches were also into their second year as Penrith coach.

On the field, five-eighth Jarome Luai has all the dazzling traits of Preston Campbell while Cleary has already joined Craig Gower and Greg Alexander as the club's three greatest halfbacks.

"The halves combinations all worked," said Alexander, captain in 1991.

"Preston had an incredible impact on the team. His attacking ability, there wasn't many better and Jarome has shown that this year.

"Steve Carter (in 1991) was a great competitor and tough and he was a good runner of the football; very underrated with his running game and pretty clever with the ball."

And if Campbell was the buy of the year in 2003, hooker Api Koroisau is this season's best pick up.

"Signing Api was exactly what we needed. And signing Preston too," Alexander said.

"In terms of impact, Api is enormous, as was Preston."

Koroisau will be among their most important players on Sunday, just like fellow hookers Luke Priddis and Royce Simmons were in 2003 and 1991.

In the centres Stephen Crichton doesn't yet have the same cache as Brad Fittler or Ryan Girdler, but the strike is there.

"They're not the same players but just with that ability to create some problems for the edge it's similar," Alexander added.

Lewis sees a lot of Joe Galuvao and Tony Puletua in second-rowers Viliame Kikau and Liam Martin.

Mark Geyer was on the edge in 1991, equally as destructive while still creative.

At lock, Isaah Yeo, Scott Sattler and Col Van Der Voort are all unsung heroes.

"All three play similar roles and they do so much work that goes unnoticed," Alexander said.

Then there are the most important traits.

The 1991 grand final side had seven Penrith juniors. In 2003 they had eight. This current lot have six.

And just like in 1991, all bar four of Sunday's grand finalists debuted at Penrith.

"The message we used to get as kids is that one one of you will make it," Lewis said.

"When you come through together and get to the big dance, it's like you have achieved something impossible."

Penrith's youthfulness means none of the current local juniors watched the 1991 side live or remember 2003.

But they're learning.

Gower addressed them before the season, while Simmons and Alexander are still around.

Players know the history's important, just like their connection with the area.

"It definitely helps," Luai said.

"There is a brotherhood. A lot of us come from Mt Druitt.

"I love every minute with these boys."

Australian Associated Press