Dressing room driving force behind Panthers
Wayne Cook will never forget the 1991 NSWRL grand final.
It was mostly business as usual, for the Penrith Panthers dressing room attendant, who spent most of the game in the sheds, cutting up watermelon and assembling drinks for the players.
But when Greg Alexander's side defeated the Canberra Raiders and became premiers, Cook sprinted straight out of the sheds to celebrate with the team.
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"I hate champagne with a passion, but when I went out there, Benny Alexander started giving me a champagne shower," Cook recalled.
"I took it off him and said 'I've got a better use than that for it', and I sculled about three inches out of the magnum of champagne,
"But then I went straight back inside the dressing room, to make sure everything was ready there for the boys."
Cook - known to the players as "Cookie" - worked at Penrith from 1987 to 2001 as both a dressing room attendant and gear steward.
"I kept the dressing rooms tidy, made sure there was soap in the showers, cleaned up after the players at the end of each game, made sure the water and fruit was ready for them," Cook said.
"As the gear steward, I'd look after all the jerseys, collect them after the game, get them to the laundry, take all the studs."
The 76-year-old said that the Panthers always made him feel part of the team.
"I remember one year, they took the gear steward position off me and put me back into the dressing room, I was a little bit downhearted and said to a couple of the boys that I was thinking about pulling the pin," Cook said.
"Brandy (Greg Alexander) turned around to me and said: 'Don't quit, you're as much a part of this side as us. Without you, we wouldn't be here.
"So for me, it's Penrith, I have no second team."
Cook was so invested in Penrith that, after finishing up at the club, he was invited to join the Panthers Ex-Players Association.
"I remember thinking, no, I'm not a bloody player," Cook said.
"But the bloke said: you've spent as much time in the dressing room as any of us, so give me $20 and fill this form out."
Cook worked at the both 1990 and 1991 grand finals, and went to the 2003 grand final as a fan.
This Sunday, he will attend his fourth Panthers grand final, to cheer on Ivan Cleary's side as they take on the Melbourne Storm at ANZ Stadium.
"I'm in bay 321, I'm right behind the goalposts, but I don't care where I'm sitting, I'm going to be there," Cook said.
"We're going to win, if the boys go out there and do what they've been doing all year, they will win."
Originally published as Dressing room driving force behind Panthers