ISP Match Preview: State Championship
The ISP Panthers will be chasing their first-ever State Championship when they face PNG Hunters at ANZ Stadium on Sunday.
Both sides advanced to the championship showdown by winning their respective state competitions. The Panthers clinched the Intrust Super Premiership NSW title by defeating Wyong Roos 20-12 at Leichhardt Oval, whilst the Hunters claimed their maiden Intrust Super Cup premiership with a 12-10 win over Sunshine Coast Falcons.
The Panthers were inspired by a man-of-the-match performance from captain and halfback Darren Nicholls. The competition's top point-scorer played a part in all four of the Panthers' tries and kicked two goals to hold the NSWRL trophy aloft.
PNG Hunters also had their captain and playmaker to thank for their Grand Final victory. Ase Boas laid off both kicks that led to their tries, including a last minute grubber for Willie Minoga to clinch the premiership for the Hunters in the dying moments of the game.
The premiership capped off a stellar year for Boas, who also won the XXXX People's Choice Award and Courier Mail Best and Fairest Medal.
Panthers ISP coach Garth Brennan has named a largely unchanged line-up to the one that defeated Wyong, with Oliver Clark named in the reserves after suffering a leg injury and Jack Hetherington taking his place on the bench.
Hunters coach Michael Marum is able to call upon two former Panthers in Wellington and Stanton Albert. The brothers were regular fixtures in the Holden Cup and NSW Cup squads during their time at the club before moving back home. Another set of brothers in Watson and Ase Boas form the halves partnership.
Sunday will be the first time the two sides face each other in a competitive game, however the Panthers travelled to PNG for a pre-season contest in 2016. The likes of Jamie Soward, Nathan Cleary and Tyrone May led the Panthers to a 20-12 victory at a sold-out National Stadium in Port Moresby.