Tia Kilifi primed for finals battle 

It's the invite-only showdown for premiership glory and Vaipuna Tia Kilifi is ready to lead his young cubs to a grand final triumph. 

After finishing the regular season in fifth position, the Panthers Toyota Cup side will begin their finals campaign in an elimination final against the St George Illawarra Dragons at ANZ Stadium on Friday afternoon. 

As the team's captain, Tia Kilifi is determined to guide the side to victory in the do-or-die match and keep their premiership dream alive. 

"I'm very excited and the boys are pumped to get the job done and hopefully get a win," Tia Kilifi said.

"It's going to be real nerve-wracking for the boys- it's our first finals footy and we really need to win to progress through- but I'm very confident."

With 14 wins and 9 defeats, the Panthers have enjoyed a stellar season.

They hit the top of the table earlier in the year, set the record for the biggest ever Toyota Cup winning margin after demolishing the Gold Coast Titans 78-0 in round 25 and, according to the competition's for and against statistics, they're the best defensive side the competition. 

Injury woes have contributed to the team losing seven of their last ten matches but only once did they go down by more than six points.

"It's been a long season with ups and down, a few injuries and what not, but I'm very proud of the boys," Tia Kilifi said.

"In the past couple of years, Penrith hasn't had too much success in the NYC but this year we've really turned a corner.

"As skipper, words can't describe the effort of the boys and I'm really happy to lead them out of the sheds."

As his teammates prepare to run onto the turf of ANZ Stadium, Tia Kilifi said his message will be to stick to the game plan and make the most of the finals experience.

"Just know their roles, stick to the script, stay positive and enjoy themselves out there," he said. "One of my long term goals was to be captain of the under-20's and I've achieved that goal and hopefully I can lead them out in the grand final in a couple of weeks- that would be another achieved goal."

As for thrusting the premiership trophy into the air on Sunday, September 30, Tia Kilifi said it would be a "dream come true".

"It'd mean a lot," he said.

"We've certainly come a long way and all the effort week in, week out, would certainly pay off to hold that trophy up."

Individually, Tia Kilifi has had a sensational season and the 20-year-old said he was "honoured" to be named as lock in the 2012 Toyota Cup Team of the Year recently.

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