Here we are again. The start of a new season, where hope and expectations are high – and every club’s dream of being at ANZ Stadium on the first weekend in October is still well and truly alive.
Penrith kick off the season with what appears to have become a new NRL tradition – a battle with arch rivals Parramatta on Sunday afternoon at Panthers Stadium.
Forget the fact that these two sides played in a trial just a fortnight ago and the Eels won 20-0 – anyone who follows the form lines of trials should head to Randwick on Saturday and back 100/1 shots all day and see what they walk home with.
There is of course something of a dark cloud hanging over this game given both sides have been rocked by negative headlines at the tail end of the pre-season, with Tyrone May and Peni Terepo the on-field casualties. Neither will line up for their respective sides this weekend for well publicised reasons.
The Eels will overcome that easily enough given it’s an individual issue, but the sex tape scandal that hit the Panthers was widespread and it’ll be interesting to see if the team can brush it aside come 4.05pm on Sunday.
All of that said, this promises to be an intriguing clash.
You kind of know what you’re going to get with Penrith given there hasn’t been an enormous amount of recruitment over the off-season, though new faces Tyrell Fuimaono and Hame Sele both get a run off the bench; the latter apparently trained the house down during the off-season.
Parramatta is an entirely different story, however. They parted ways with Corey Norman at the end of last season, with Brad Arthur putting his faith in youngster Dylan Brown to get the job done in the halves alongside Mitchell Moses, who himself is under enormous pressure to perform this season.
Meanwhile former Panther Maika Sivo and 2018 premiership winner Blake Ferguson are the new look wingers for the Eels.
The Eels are without Terepo, Manu Ma’u and most likely Junior Paulo for Sunday’s game due to injury, while the Panthers will be without Viliame Kikau. It’s a big blow for the home side as the Fijian powerhouse would have really caused some damage on that left side on Sunday.
Parramatta would remember this corresponding fixture from last season, when after being up 14-0 their entire season seemingly collapsed in the space of 50 minutes, with Penrith claiming their first victim of the season. It is a reminder of how important opening round matches can be, especially when you are desperate for confidence as the Eels would be at the moment after such a disappointing 2018 season.
For those who love a little bit of stats and history, Penrith haven’t lost an opening round encounter at home since 2012.
I’m expecting Penrith to have a little bit too much class for Parramatta in the end, but I doubt this will be a blow-out result. I’m expecting a tight first half tussle with the Panthers to edge in front as the full-time siren gets closer. The home side just has the better cattle.
Tip: Panthers by 4.
Penrith and Parramatta play at Panthers Stadium on Sunday, March 17 at 4.05pm.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor. He has more than 15 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia’s leading media organisations.