Meeting for the second time in two weeks, Wyong was determined to prove their round 16 19-18 victory over Penrith wasn’t a fluke.
Sitting on the fringe of the top four, it was a crucial match for the Roos against the top-of-the-table Panthers.
Not only did Wyong claim a thrilling 22-20 last-minute victory over the defending premiers, but it proved to be the statement win that was the catalyst for the Roos’ premiership march to the finals.
Reunited for a third time in the first week of the finals, Wyong would defeat Penrith again on their way to a historic first grand final appearance for the club.
The Panthers’ premiership reign came to an end the following week against the same team they defeated in last year’s decider – the Newcastle Knights, who went on to win the elusive VB NSW Cup.
It was a massively successful season for Wyong despite not achieving their ultimate goal of winning the premiership. Entering the VB NSW Cup in 2013, they went from wooden spooners to grand finalists. The hope is they go one better (like the Knights) and win it all in 2016.
The Wyong Roos stamped their premiership credentials with a heart-stopping 22-20 last-minute victory over the competition leaders, the Penrith Panthers.
The VB NSW Cup's two best defences met in an enthralling affair, playing out one of the best matches of the season for an early Finals preview
It was a highly entertaining top-four affair jam-packed with plenty of attacking football – but it was the Roos who enjoyed the statement win after an inspiring defensive effort against the Panthers, who put on an impressive offensive display throughout the contest.
It was clear from the opening stages that both sides were motivated for the contest as the Roos repelled the Panthers’ early attack for the majority of the first 10 minutes.
The Roos’ hard work was rewarded with their first set in attack as Mitch Williams stabbed a grubber kick from dummy half for Lagi Setu to score the opening try for a 6-0 lead.
After several opportunities, the Panthers finally crossed in the 15th minute when a clever set move found Will Smith taking advantage of a dazed defence. Isaac John provided his halves partner with a brilliant pass out the back for Smith who sprinted through the gap from 10 metres out.
Ahead 6-4, the Roos capitalised on their limited chances to score back-to-back tries. The Roos extended their lead 12-4 after 25 minutes when man-of-the-match Willie Manu picked up a low Setu offload to secure the try. Setu provided another offload to put Manu through the defence to find Samisoni Langi in support before Manu received the ball back and pass to Abraham Papalii to score in the left corner for a scintillating 70-metre team try.
However, the Roos undid their hard work in earning an 18-8 lead, coughing up possession in the ensuing set for the Panthers to cross and cut the deficit to 18-8 as Tupou Sopoaga fought his way to the try line before halftime.
Smith and John were outstanding for the Panthers to steer the attack as the Roos showed they were more than up to the task with a brilliant second-half display to begin their march to the Finals.
The Panthers constructed another exciting set in attack that capitulated in a try to Malakai Watene-Zelezniak to score in the left corner with Adrian Davis converting from the sideline to trail 18-14.
The Panthers continued to mount pressure and they appeared to clinch the victory over the Roos after Chris Smith barrelled his way over from close range for a 20-18 lead with five minutes remaining.
However, the Roos stole the landmark win as Chris Centrone proved to be the hero, finding space to race 50 metres down the right sideline and score the last-minute match-winning try, leaving everyone hoping for a Finals rematch.
Wyong Roos 22 (C Centrone, A Papalii, W Manu, L Setu tries; T Cornish 3 goals) beat Penrith Panthers 20 (W Smith, M Watene-Zelezniak, T Sopoaga, C Smith tries; Davis, W Smith goals)