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Battle of West is a rugby league tradition

I might be deemed callous and ruthless but I hope my side the Panthers inflicts a bit more pain on struggling Parramatta this Friday night at Parramatta Stadium.

Steve Kearney, the Eels coach and an old team-mate at the Auckland Warriors, is having a wretched run with a side that still hasn't won this year and came near-last in 2012.

But I am Penrith through-and-through and I cannot write this column and pretend to show any sympathy for Parramatta.

I look back at when I first came into grade, it was 1984.

I remember being told at the time that Penrith hadn't beaten the Eels in their previous 18 games, dating right back to 1975.

We played the Eels twice that year and grabbed a win in the opening encounter to break the nine year drought. It was very exciting for me as a rookie but my elation was nothing compared to the players and committee men who had endured that long winless streak.

So Penrith has certainly had their troubles with Parramatta over the years and now the Eels are down, I don't want the Panthers to allow our western Sydney rivals to climb off the canvas. Not this week anyway.

I thought Parramatta was woeful against North Queensland last weekend. Most clubs bust a gut to win an NRL game - that didn't seem evident in the Eels.

I think fans generally accept defeat when their side has put in a big effort and shown some ticker and resolve. I don't think Parramatta displayed any of these traits in Townsville.

Maybe the local derby will shake them from their slumber. Penrith and Parramatta is always a traditional and ferocious local derby. We don't have that many derbies left in our game.

Parramatta came into the NSWRL competition 20 seasons before the Panthers so for many years it was Big Brother versus Little Brother.

Those days are thankfully long gone but there is always plenty of feeling in the games and is a contest western Sydney supporters really absorb and enjoy.

Now to the second of our clashes in the ‘84 season. Parramatta was right in the middle of their golden era and sitting 3rd on the ladder while we were 6th and needing a win to play semi-finals for the first time in the club’s history. It was the final game of the regular season, our last chance and we were playing our arch enemy.

The game was at Penrith Park which by that stage of the year was a dust bowl and the fans knew the importance cramming in to create a then ground record.

The game lived up to the hype but enough said that we weren’t successful and would have to wait another year to play semis. Even allowing for the disappointment, to this day a couple of my most vivid memories of my 16-year career came on that day.  

I was standing there waiting for a scrum feed early in the game and gazed across at the Parramatta backline. There was Peter Sterling feeding the ball, Ray Price popped out from lock, then there was Brett Kenny, Mick Cronin out wide, Steve Ella outside him and then big Eric Grothe.

There was a certain amount of awe in that moment that I’ve never forgotten. The other involved Eric Grothe. As a young halfback you always dreamed of making a cover tackle on the Guru and my chance came midway through the first half when he set sail down the right touchline.

The dream was materializing before my eyes as I came across in cover. When I realized he wasn’t going to try and step back inside (and why would he against a skinny 70kg boy), I thought my moment of glory had come. I was about to put the great Eric Grothe into touch which I did.

For a millisecond I'd never felt better, but he obviously wasn’t as surprised as me when we both looked up and saw Steve Ella running in a try under the posts.

The wild cheers weren’t for my tackle they were for the great pass on the inside to the zip zip man which in my tunnel vision and the chance to live out a long time dream hadn’t considered. We’d been beaten by big brother which made it harder to take but enough of history lets deal with the now.

Both teams go into this game desperate. I have criticised the Eels but my Panthers aren't traveling enormously well either.

There were some signs of fight last Sunday but they leaked too many points to beat Souths. No side likes to have 40 points put on them. The Panthers were beaten all over the park.

It appears as though the injured Jarryd Hayne won't be back for Parramatta - that is a shame. Although I want Penrith to win, every fan in our game loves watching Hayne play.

At least the Eels welcome back colourful prop Fuifui Moimoi - he is another crowd pleaser.

Parramatta and Penrith have won a total of one from six games this year - hardly a statistic to strike fear into the heavyweights like Melbourne, Manly, New Zealand and Brisbane.

But no matter where these two teams are on the competition table, the match is always intriguing and fierce. Friday night should be no different.

***

I tipped Manly in the Monday night match but couldn't help feel good when the Sharks held-on late to win. It was a victory for the battler.

Cronulla is so maligned in rugby league. They never seem to have much money, their resources are limited, their depth is modest and they don't even have a major sponsor splashed across the front of their jumper.

But it seems they have one ingredient - plenty of heart and courage.

Manly had nine senior representative players on the field on Monday but Cronulla tackled like demons. They played with a grim determination. They slaughtered a probable win in round one against Wests Tigers and then butchered three tries in round two when defeated by Newcastle.

So I was happy to see them hang on to beat the favorites Manly. It was a win they richly deserved. But, for sides like Cronulla, the hardest part is backing-up.

Yes it was a great win but for on-going credibility, Cronulla need to string together a few wins. But it won't be easy this Saturday night - the Shire boys travel to Townsville to confront the in-form Cowboys.

****

I thought North Queensland was most impressive against Parramatta last weekend. The Cowboys started the season in horrible fashion - an 18-0 loss at home to Gold Coast, last year's wooden spooners.

But it seems the loss was only a brief hiccup. North Queensland fired back with a fabulous win over Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium and then last week's hammering of Parramatta.

The Eels shouldn't feel too bad - I reckon North Queensland will belt a few sides up there this year.  They have well-balanced side and still have Tariq Sims to return from injury. And, boy, how good is Jason Taumalolo what a handful he’ll be for defences this season.

I like watching North Queensland play. They are highly entertaining and are a team that will cause considerable damage this year deep into the finals.

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