For Trent Merrin, the goosebumps began in June.
Long-time Penrith starters James Segeyaro had been let go, veteran Jamie Soward dropped, and international centres Dean Whare and Peta Hiku were sidelined for the rest of the season.
They were clinging onto their spot in the NRL top eight, and much of their fate now rested in the youthful hands of 18-year-old rookie halfback Nathan Cleary.
However, that didn’t stop Panthers boss Phil Gould from daring his team – a roster he had torn down then rebuilt since saving the club in 2011 – to make a fairytale run to the grand final.
“I hear commentators say the words, ‘In a couple of years, they’re capable of winning the premiership’,” Gould said at the club’s 50th-anniversary gala dinner three months ago.
“In a couple of years they might be ready for us. In a couple of years they might see us coming.”
But he told the squad there was no time like the present.
“If you want to dedicate yourself for the next 14 weeks to each other, to your coaches, play hard and play tough, there’s no reason why we can’t sneak up on them this year.
“And make it a real celebration to remember.”
Merrin, who turned his back on St George Illawarra to take up a big-money move to the foot of the Blue Mountains last summer, remembers the speech distinctly.
“I got goosebumps at the time because I believe it,” he said ahead of Saturday’s semi-final against Canberra in the nation’s capital.
“I’ve been around some great teams and this is definitely one of them. Everyone keeps talking about the future, but we’re all looking at the present and we’re preparing for the present.”
And despite the Panthers being the youngest and most inexperienced team left of the six remaining in title contention, Merrin in unashamedly convinced they can go all the way.
If they do, they’ll become the first team to lift the trophy from outside the top four in 20 years.
“I believe we can, for sure. I’ve got total belief in that and I know that everyone else in the team does too,” he said.
“It’s not about that though. It’s about Canberra this week. We’ve got to take it one week at a time and prepare each and every day the hardest we can.”