A match between arch rivals Penrith and Parramatta is often billed as the ‘battle of the west’ but in this weekend’s case, it is anything but.
Not only is the game being played some 4,000 kilometres away from western Sydney, but it sees teams 12 and 13 on the ladder come up against each other – hardly a match with any great expectations attached to it.
A bizarre scheduling mishap sees this Parramatta home game being played in Darwin and for the Eels, it will mark the end of three tough weeks on the road that has included two visits to Queensland.
The Eels do return to Sydney next week but in what is shaping as an incredibly tough month, face the Roosters and Sea Eagles away before finally returning to Pirtek Stadium in round 25.
Parramatta come into this match on the back of Monday night’s 24-14 loss to the Gold Coast. It was a game that never reached any great heights and showed that apart from the menacing Semi Radradra, the Eels pose very little threat in attack if your defence is switched on and alert.
While the Eels got plenty of metres out of their backline on Monday night, their forward pack struggled to make ground – apart from Tim Mannah who ran 162 metres in 52 minutes, made 32 tackles and never stopped trying.
The Panthers made every fan proud last weekend, producing one of their better performances of the past month against South Sydney at ANZ Stadium. The Rabbitohs got the chocolates in the end but the Panthers could hold their heads high after an effort that was far superior to what they’ve produced in recent games.
It was only inexperience that defeated Penrith in the end – throw a few more cool heads into that team and they would have prevailed.
As Ivan Cleary deals with yet another backline reshuffle following the season-ending hamstring injury to Robert Jennings, the Panthers now look at the final few weeks of the competition as an opportunity to restore pride, develop new combinations and introduce new players to first grade – such as Leilani Latu who made his debut last weekend.
While the Panthers may not be playing in the finals this year (unless a minor miracle occurs), a lot can be achieved over the last month of the competition and it is important that the Panthers don’t drop their heads. The entire rugby league community has acknowledged Penrith’s significant injury list, but the Panthers have an opportunity to prove that they can rise above adversity and sound a warning bell to the competition next season.
Against Parramatta, the Panthers need to play calm, collected football.
The Eels will crack eventually and the longer the game goes on, the more Penrith will have an opportunity to pile on the points. But silly offloads and foolish errors will only invite Parramatta into the game and give them a sniff of claiming an unlikely win.
The Panthers must contain Parramatta’s backline with a smart kicking game that slows the game down and offers very little space to the back three. That needs to come on the back of Isaac John and Jamie Soward, who combined well last weekend against the Rabbitohs.
Penrith should win, but if they are to lose, my guess is it will be because of the quality of their own game, not the opposition.
Tip: Panthers by 16
– Troy Dodds