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The Wyong Roos clash with the Penrith Panthers in the 2017 Intrust Super Premiership NSW Grand Final. Image: NRL Photos.

Penrith coach Garth Brennan allowed his players one night to celebrate their victory against Wyong before forcing the side to knuckle down for preparations ahead of their clash against the PNG Hunters in the curtain-raiser to the NRL Grand Final on Sunday. 

The Panthers were crowned premiers over the Wyong Roos last week in New South Wales' Intrust Super Premiership competition, while the Hunters outfit are fresh off their last-minute victory over the Sunshine Coast in Queensland's Intrust Super Cup grand final on the weekend.

After revealing a sense of regret for not giving the new Intrust Super State Championship concept the respect it deserved following his team's defeat the Northern Pride in 2014, Panthers captain Darren Nicholls said Brennan had an added motivation as coach to go one better on Sunday.

"He keeps telling us that they didn't go into the game with as much intensity as the grand final in 2014," Nicholls told ahead of the clash.

"He's lost one before and knows that feeling so it's really driving him.  

"It is weird because you've got to put last week's game and the celebrations behind you. This is grand final number two now.

"We want to be the best team at Intrust Super Premiership level in Australia."

Nicholls has played in both state-based competitions in the past two years – featuring for the Redcliffe Dolphins last season before joining the Panthers in 2017.

"I think it's a good concept, years ago there would be talk of people comparing who would win between the two premiers from each state, but now you can really show who's the better side," he said.

"I played in the Queensland grand final last year and we lost so it was sweet to do it on the weekend. Now we get the opportunity on NRL grand final day against a team that will have a big following."

Nicholls took on the Hunters twice while he was playing for the Dolphins, and knows what to expect.

"They're a tough outfit," he said.

"They run the ball hard and there is a lot of effort involved. They're full of energy and will be a handful."

Meanwhile the self-noted journeyman remains hopeful of sorting out his future in the coming weeks after a stellar performance against the Roos earnt him man-of-the-match honours.

Nicholls has been stuck behind key halves Adam Reynolds and Ben Hunt while at the Rabbitohs and Broncos in recent seasons, before the form of Nathan Cleary at Penrith meant the 28-year-old was again down in the pecking order.

"I'd love to stay here at Penrith, but for me it's where I can get the best opportunity to play footy," Nicholls said.

"Wherever there is a first-grade opportunity I have to take and that's what I've done always moving around.

"It's been a slow grind, my role was always to push the guy in front of me. Obviously with Nathan this year everyone saw how well he played.

"Unfortunately the chance to play a game hasn't presented itself yet but I feel each year I get better as a footballer."

This article first appeared on

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