The Northern Pride have upset the Penrith Panthers 32-28 in a memorable debut for the State Championship.
It wasn’t quite State of Origin, but the Northern Pride were claiming revenge for Queensland in their 32-28 come-from-behind upset of the Penrith Panthers in the inaugural rugby league State Championship.
Coach Jason Demetriou said his side felt disrespected by bookmakers who gave the Queensland Cup champions no chance of coming to Sydney’s ANZ Stadium and knocking off the all-conquering Panthers, premiers in the NSW Cup, in the NRL grand final curtain raiser.
But Demetriou said his gritty Cairns-based players had lived up to their nickname and restored pride in Queensland rugby league, proving that the northern state boasts the superior reserve grade competition.
Star of the show was winger Javid Bowen – nephew of North Queensland Cowboys legend Matt – who bagged a hat-trick and enhanced his NRL claims for 2015.
Trailing by 12 points with less than half an hour on the clock, the Pride capitalised on some clangers from the Panthers’ Fijian connection Eto Nabuli and Wes Naqaima to hit the lead through back-rower Tyrone McCarthy with eight minutes left.
Demetriou rang his hand in pain after almost smashing his fist through the coaching box glass after Bowen scored his third, but the NSW-born Pride coach was proud to be a Queenslander post match.
“My sister has already cut (the footage) off TV and put it on Facebook. It was a good way to get on the big screen. I’d take a broken hand,” Demetriou said.
“Everyone had been saying David versus Goliath, we didn’t see it like that at all.
“We earned the right to be here and we showed that today.
“I don’t get how they came up with the (odds), it was pretty disrespectful – not just to us personally but the Queensland Cup.
“It’s about those bragging rights.
“I’m a Sydney boy born and bred but I can see why there’s a bit of hatred towards people south of the border.”
The novel concept saw the Queensland Cup premiers come to NRL grand final day for the first time, and it was even the first time some pride players had come to Sydney fullstop.
After conceding the first two tries, the Panthers roared back with tries to Luke Capewell, Eto Nabuli, Waqa Blake, Kierran Moseley and Kieran Moss – but after dominating the NSW Cup, the mountain men couldn’t back up.
“It was a massive learning curve for some of these guys who have dreams of playing NRL,” said coach Garth Brennan.
“To have two grand finals at a second tier level is probably similar to playing NRL back to back, you’ve got to be up each week and if you’re not you’re going to pay the consequences.
“We probably let ourselves down a bit today.”
It was a sad end to the career of Panthers hooker Kevin Kingston, a veteran of the NRL.
But players from both teams praised the concept, which gives youngsters from both states the chance to shine on the big stage.
Pride centre Brett Anderson revealed his team deliberately held off celebrating their Queensland Cup premiership last week to prove themselves in Sydney.
“We held off, but now we’ll make up for it,” said Anderson.