Panthers v Eels Preview

Panthers v Eels
CUA Stadium
Sunday, 3pm

Penrith will come into this local derby fresh after the bye, but now enter into the toughest seven weeks of their season. Captain Petero Civoniceva detached the tendon from his toe during State of Origin and is now sidelined – along with about half Penrith’s regular team.

Parramatta’s recent fortunes could not be more different. They are coming off a hard-fought win over the Broncos and match-winners Jarryd Hayne and Nathan Hindmarsh are seemingly in season-best form.

In this year’s first leg of the battle of the west the Eels travel to Penrith to keep their finals hopes alive, while the Panthers must win this game to prove they can stay in the top eight, and give Civoniceva and Luke Lewis an easier job when they return from injury.

Watch out Panthers: Penrith players do not need to be told Jarryd Hayne is currently playing on another level; they already know. What they do not know, along with the rest of the NRL, is how to stop him.

Even when he looked lethargic and tired after a scintillating performance in Origin II, Hayne managed to find space twice against the Broncos and turn on his speed to come close to scoring both times. He has 14 line breaks from 13 games for the season, averages 155 metres a game and has 69 tackle breaks.

At the moment Hayne is simply unstoppable. Penrith need to come at him with an unbroken line when returning kicks, and try to pin him deep in the Eels’ half.

Hayne’s Minto mate Kris Inu must be the most relaxed man on a football field, but he finally found some spark against the Broncos. He has just two line breaks for the year and three tries, but against the inexperienced pairing of Gavin Cooper and Junior Tia Kilifi, Inu could create many opportunities on the Eels’ left-hand side.

Watch out Eels: The Panthers may have lost Civoniceva but they regain a very important attacking weapon in Michael Jennings this week. Jennings immediately strengthens Penrith’s left-hand side attack, and his combination with back-rower Frank Pritchard is lethal.

The Panthers score most of their tries down this passage of the field, with 21 for the season, opposed to 16 on the right. Jennings himself has 12 line breaks, eight tries and 51 tackle breaks. Pritchard has made six line breaks, but more importantly seven line break assists – usually to Jennings.

Joel Reddy and Eric Grothe will be having nightmares about Jennings this week, because as usual the Eels’ right-hand side defence was exposed by Brisbane last week: Steve Michaels slipped between Reddy and Grothe for two tries. Even switching Hindmarsh out there did not stop the onslaught. If the Eels don’t put pressure on Pritchard (20 offloads) and wrap the ball up they will allow Jennings to run riot.

Where it will be won: On the edges is where these teams so often excel, but both have explosive fullbacks capable of magic play. Jarrod Sammut does not have the size or athleticism of Hayne, but he is an ingenious player in his own right. His training in the halves gives him a playmaking and kicking game, and Sammut may lack size, but not confidence. He is willing to try anything and it has led to three tries and two try assists.

However the Panthers’ forwards need to give him the space to work, and without Civoniceva, it will be tough. The Maroons rep averages 140 metres a game and has made 18 offloads. Tim Grant (68 metres) and Frank Puletua (98 metres) need to fill that void.

The History: Played 78, Penrith 28, Parramatta 49, drawn 1. At CUA Stadium played 38, Penrith 17, Parramatta 20, drawn 1.

Conclusion: Parramatta have a chance to move even closer to the top eight with a win against a vulnerable opposition. The Eels are so inconsistent that back-to-back wins seem beyond them, but they displayed a new commitment last week against Brisbane.

Penrith have a serious injury crisis, but the return of Jennings will be crucial.

Hayne and Jennings are the gamebreakers for their respective teams and the player that is kept away from the ball will most likely be on the losing team.

The Eels’ right-side defence hold the key. If they implode, Pritchard and Jennings will be unstoppable.

Match Officials: Referees – Jason Robinson & Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials – Russell Turner and Adam Devcich; Video Ref – Bill Harrigan.

Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 4pm; Fox Sports – Delayed 6pm AEST.

* Statistics: NRL Stats