FOR Trae McGovern, the Penrith Panthers have always been special.
"My partner was actually born in the 'Riff," the former Matilda said. "When we met, that was a big tick."
It means there will be unity in their Charlestown home on Sunday when the club returns to the biggest match on the NRL calendar for the first time since 2003.
Partner Tara and the pair's children Zada, six, and Evie, three, are also pledged to the club. On game day Ms McGovern's brother Sean, his wife Susan and their daughters Harriet, two and Margaux, four months will bolster their ranks.
The entire household will be decked out in Panthers colours, but Ms McGovern will reach for a t-shirt in the club's former white and brown colour scheme.
She said the garment, which she has donned throughout the Panthers' enormous regular season winning streak, was a game day ritual.
"I do have the jersey but I just can't wear it for the games," she said. "I couldn't find [the shirt] last week and I started fretting."
The same colours drew her to the club as a child, she said, when she would turn up for soccer training in the distinctive colour scheme.
She remembers taking to the streets after their maiden grand final victory in 1991, when they downed Canberra. "I literally ran up and down the street in my Panthers gear," she said.
Ms McGovern pledged to re-enact the run if Penrith are successful in taking out the title on Sunday, and said the side "playing like they really enjoy themselves" were capable of knocking off Melbourne Storm.
"Coming from a sporting background myself, teams like this don't come along very easily," she said.
"It's such a special team when the players all get along."
As far as the veteran side on the other end of the paddock, Ms McGovern said their superstar hooker's potential farewell would inspire little sympathy from her side of things.
"That's the golden boy's finale, and it'd be great for Cameron Smith to go out a winner," she said. "But we don't care."
John Brady, however, does. The Buchanan man said it would "mean the world" to potentially end Smith's career with a title.
"If they win, it will be his last game," he predicted.
His route to supporting Victoria's lone NRL side runs straight through the Hunter.
The former Hunter Mariners fan got to know that side's coach Graham Murray and many players who ultimately ended up at the fledgling Storm through his work at Newcastle Holden.
"A lot of their players got transferred down to Melbourne," Mr Brady said. "When they started, half the team was from Newcastle."
Given their success in recent years, Melbourne have become a team many love to hate. Mr Brady said there is a "silent Storm syndrome" in the Hunter, where fans of Craig Bellamy's side lay low.
Despite that, he said he was confident that victory was in the offing.
"We've got like six or seven strike players," he said. "They can't stop them all."
Whoever holds up the trophy, Mr Brady said he disagreed with suggestions this year's pandemic-disrupted season would count for less than usual.
"I say it is the opposite, I think it's been a harder season because they've changed the rules, they've relocated teams. They could put an asterisk, but it should be that it was harder."