24 Oct 2020

NRL Grand Final: Pacific legends backing former clubs to prevail

7:53 am on 24 October 2020

Two Pacific rugby league legends are backing their former clubs to come out on top in the NRL grand final this Sunday.

Former Penrith Panthers second rower, Tony Puletua, has high hopes his old team can snap a 17 year Premiership drought.

Tony Puletua on the charge in the 2003 NRL grand final.

Tony Puletua on the charge in the 2003 NRL grand final. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

As one half of the famous 'Hair Bears' alongside Joe Galuvao, Puletua was influential as the Panthers silenced the Sydney Roosters in the 2003 grand final.

This year's minor premiers take on the Melbourne Storm in Sunday's title decider, and the former New Zealand and Samoa international believes there are some similarities between the current team and the premiership winning side of 2003.

Tony Puletua holds the NRL Trophy after Penrith beat the Roosters 18-6.

Tony Puletua holds the NRL Trophy after Penrith beat the Roosters 18-6. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

"I found myself this year just [being] like a crazy fan, just really enjoying it, watching them, and just loving what they've done this year," he said.

"There's so many players that remind me of the type of players that we had in our side. Obviously they've done so much more than us in terms of how many games they've won during the season and now they're in the grand final."

But the most famous Papua New Guinean to pull on the Melbourne Storm jersey, Marcus Bai, is adamant the Storm will prevail.

"I'm always 100 percent [confident]. I've got no doubt that they're going to go win and give it everything," said the cult hero, who will be cheering his former team on from his home on the Gold Coast.

"People are saying - a lot of media - about Penrith have a lot of energy... and honestly I'm still 100 percent Melbourne is going to walk away and, especially, I think the boys know that's probably Cameron Smith's last game. I reckon they're going to go in and give it everything for Cameron and to send him out with a grand final ring."

The Melbourne Storm celebrate their 1999 NRL Grand Final win.

Marcus Bai and the Melbourne Storm were NRL champions in 1999. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Despite arriving at ANZ Stadium on a 17-game winning run, Puletua believes the Panthers are being labelled as the underdogs in the title decider, but he said it will all come down to how they perform on game-day.

"They're up against a huge challenge in Melbourne Storm only because of the calibre of players they have [and] the experience of finals that they have. It's going to be a huge challenge," he said.

"So many people are writing them off already. I think Penrith are the underdogs for the game and I always say to people not many people gave us a chance in 2003 against the Roosters either but on grand final night anything is possible and anything can happen."

He encouraged players to enjoy the moment because it could be the only grand final they play in for the rest of their professional career.

"I wish now that I could soak it up a little bit more than I did because it's just one of those things that happens quick and before you know it it's the next season, and I felt like we hadn't really had the time to celebrate our win from the year before," he recalled.

"My advice to teams now that go through to the grand final - especially Penrith: just soak up everything you can and enjoy the moment, enjoy the week and enjoy the game. They're hard to come by, they don't come by too often and you may never get this opportunity to do it again."

NRL Trophy

NRL Trophy Photo: Photosport