IT WAS a dream come true for St Pat's junior Josh Belfanti on Saturday, when his Penrith Panthers rallied from behind to stun the Sydney Roosters in the SG Ball Cup grand final.
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Belfanti wasn't even meant to be playing in the decider, having been named as 18th man, but he was rushed in to start as prop after one of his teammates had to withdraw in the lead-up to the match.
Belfanti said he was thrilled to have featured in a pulsating decider at Commbank Stadium.
"It was pretty good to win. I'm still a little bit sore, but it was a really good win," he said.
"The first half was a tough half of footy but we always knew that we had the belief in our squad to turn it around.
"It's always special to do what we did."
It looked like curtains for Panthers by half-time, trailing the undefeated minor premiers 20-0 at the break.
But the Penrith club turned it around after the interval, with Jesse McLean opening the scoring 12 minutes into the second half, before Mason Teague and Angelis Hotere-Papalii scored to have Panthers down by 20-16 with just four minutes to remaining.
With the minutes ticking down, Jesse McLean scored out wide for the Panthers to lock the scores at 20-all.
Up stepped Penrith five-eight Keagan Russell-Smith, who slotted the conversion from the sideline to deliver Panthers its eighth SG Ball Cup premiership and first since 2018.
"I've always dreamt of that as a kid; being in a grand final and kicking a goal from the sideline," Russell-Smith said after the game.
While Panthers overcame what seemed an unlikely margin in the decider, Belfanti was still full of praise for the beaten Roosters.
"The Roosters were a really good team. I think a few of their boys did pre-season with the NRL boys," Belfanti said.
"Obviously they were undefeated, so they were definitely a good team and they showed their quality in the first half."
Belfanti wasn't the only junior from the Western Rams region that featured in the Panthers squad this season, with the likes of Riley Wake (Dubbo CYMS), Billy Phillips (Forbes), Sam Lane (Lithgow), Fletcher Haycock (Dubbo CYMS), Bayden Moran (Forbes) and Aston Warwick (Dubbo Macquarie) all playing some part in 2022.
Belfanti said it was awesome to win the grand final alongside his mates, whether Western juniors or players he met down at Penrith.
"It's definitely great to win it with your mates," he said.
"We definitely got a lot closer this year, playing together. It really makes the win special, having that sense of brotherhood within the team."
While his season with Panthers has wrapped up now, Belfanti will remain in the Penrith region and will play for under 20s with the St Marys Saints for the rest of the 2022 season.
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