The Sydney Roosters have chalked up the biggest boilover in the brief history of the under-20s competition, claiming a stunning come-from-behind win against Penrith.
The Tricolours looked dead in the water when they went into halftime down 28-6 against the raging favourites and had key man Grant Garvey sidelined with a shoulder injury on Sunday.
But as they did in a dramatic preliminary final win the previous week, the Roosters defied the odds by keeping the league’s best attacking team scoreless in the second half.
Even their coach Anthony Barnes was sceptical.
“I was starting to doubt it. Then the boys started to roll and as they’ve done in the last two weeks, they started to roll and get a bit of belief,” Barnes said.
Fittingly, it was Jack Gibson medallist and Roosters captain Nat Butcher who started the comeback, surging over minutes after halftime.
Tries to Sitili Tupouniua and Joseph Manu followed, before makeshift hooker Victor Radley turned hero by sending Johnny Tuivasa-Sheck away to steal the lead in the 73rd.
Penrith star Dylan Edwards had an opportunity in the dying stages to send the game to extra time but didn’t have the legs to nail a 25-metre penalty shot.
It was a mammoth meltdown from the minor premiers, who seemed destined to claim their third Holden Cup trophy in four years against their cross-town rivals.
But the Roosters, who finished seventh in the regular season, upset the Panthers after starting as the longest-priced grand finalists in the league’s nine-year existence.
The Roosters literally got the early jump on the heavily favoured rivals, pulling off a short kickoff and then scoring first through Manu.
But the minor premiers claimed the ascendancy with the next five tries of the half through Christian Crichton, Corey Waddell, Braidon Burns, Kaide Ellis and Wayde Egan.
They even correctly used the captain’s challenge to deny Roosters centre Jarred Anderson from reducing the deficit, and then watched Roosters hooker Grant Garvey trudge off.
Coach Cameron Ciraldo said they simply couldn’t keep up with the Roosters in the second half.
“We knew they weren’t going to go away. They came back from 14-0 last week, we knew they’re a dangerous team when they’ve got nothing to lose,” he said.
Barnes praised the efforts of NRL graduates in Butcher and Manu before predicting more of his premiership-winning team would join them in first grade.