Luke Garner has only ever experienced grand final day once in his career and it didn’t end well for the edge forward ahead of creating potential history with the Panthers on Sunday.
It was 2015 when Garner came through Manly’s under-20s system alongside Tom Trbojevic and took on Penrith stars Jarome Luai, Moses Leota, James Fisher-Harris and Dylan Edwards in the previous Holden Cup grand final.
Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary missed the match, opting to represent the Australian Schoolboys side overseas but it did not matter with Luai and hooker Soni Luke starring in the decider.
Despite Garner scoring a try in the first half, the Panthers ran away with a 34-18 win - a result he hopes can be replicated eight years later in the decider against the Broncos on Sunday.
“They beat us comprehensively and you could tell a lot of those boys at the Panthers would kick on and play first grade,” Garner told NRL.com.
“It’s pretty cool now, we have a bit of a laugh about it. All those boys who played in the match remember it well.
“The day was a nerve-wracking experience but fun, even though we were on the wrong side of the scoreboard and lost.
“Being able to play in those games at a young age can help you as you get older. These boys around me now have been playing in grand finals for a long time.”
Garner and veteran Tyrone Peachey are on the verge of joining a rare group of players who have gone from a club that claimed the wooden spoon to winning a premiership in 12 months.
Holden Cup GF Match Highlights: Panthers v Sea Eagles
Their departures from Wests Tigers last season set up a reunion with coach Ivan Cleary after playing under the premiership-winning coach previously.
Should either take the field in Cleary’s 17 on Sunday and taste victory, they could become the third player in the modern era behind Brenko Lee (2019-2020) and Harvey Howard (1999-2000) to go from cellar dwellers to premiership winners.
“Ivan’s turned me into a better footy player, along with guys like Ben Gardiner, Peter Wallace and Benny Harden," Garner said.
“I’m a lot better than when I got here. They’ve instilled a lot of confidence in me and they believe in me.
“It probably hasn’t quite sunk in yet that we're in the grand final. I’m sure it will with a few of the events we get through this week and the hype around it.
“Something every player wants to achieve is a premiership but the job isn’t done yet. One more game to go and it’s what we play for."
Match: Panthers v Broncos
Grand Final -
Venue: Accor Stadium, Sydney