Hard work and sacrifice are the first things that come to mind when you win a premiership.
For Penrith Panthers halfback Darren Nicholls, it’s certainly a case of ‘hard work pays off’ for the 28 year-old who inspired his team to an upset grand final victory over the Wyong Roos last night.
Nicholls avenged his heart breaking Grand Final loss in the Intrust Super Cup with the Redcliffe Dolphins in 2016 - another successful year for the halfback who finished as the competition’s leading point scorer while also finishing fourth in the prestigious Courier Mail Medal.
His move to the Panthers for this season proved golden with the 2015 NSW Residents Halfback playing a pivotal role in the valiant 20-12 victory, but says it was the outstanding defensive efforts of his teammates that ultimately proved the difference.
“It was a great team performance, I thought there were some efforts in defence that we can be really, really proud of and I’m just really proud of my team,” Nicholls told NSWRL.com.au
While it was the 17 players who delivered on the game’s biggest day, Nicholls paid tribute to a host of other stars who played a significant role in the Panthers road to Grand Final Glory.
With the likes of Dylan Edwards, Tyrone May and Corey Harawira-Naera earning respective first-grade selections throughout 2017, it paved the way for an array of other talented players to take part in a season to remember for the victorious Intrust Super Premiership NSW Premiers.
“I’ve just got to pay credit to all the boys who played - there have been players who left the club, players who have missed out today, up from Ron Massey, up to [first]-grade and people who have come play,” he said.
“It’s been a great team effort and i’m very proud of my team.”
That includes Fijian Flyer Maika Sivo who has enjoyed a stellar rise into the Panthers reserve grade side this season, while also playing an instrumental role in the Panthers win with a remarkable try on half-time before a try-saving tackle on Joseph Manu with just five minutes remaining in the contest.
“That [tackle] is an example of how far Maika has come,” Nicholls said.
“When he first started - in his first few games he wouldn’t of done that. He’s worked really hard on his game and he’s a very talented player.”
Nicholls’ astute kicking game was paramount in the Panthers victory with his two try-assists enough for him to claim man-of-the-match honours, but head-coach Garth Brennan highlighted his consistent form throughout the season as a testament to his sides late-season surge.
“‘Dezie’ has been playing really good football for us for the last eight weeks,” Brennan says.
“I think that’s part of the reason why we have had some success because Dezie has been outstanding and he's been steering the team around really well.”
With previous stints at the South Sydney Rabbitohs and Brisbane Broncos - which included an appearance at the 2015 Auckland Nines, Nicholls hasn’t given up on finally making a well-deserved NRL debut, but has his sights firmly set on the Intrust Super Championship against the PNG Hunters next Sunday.
“That’s my dream to play first-grade and I’ll just keep my hardest until that happens.
“We’ve just got to see what happens, we’ll enjoy tonight and then focus on the PNG Hunters next week.”