This derby is the biggest game the two clubs have contested since the 2000 semi final, when a Clinton Schifcofske inspired Eels thumped the Panthers 28-10.
It’s something injured Penrith captain and champion front-rower Petero Civoniceva is acutely aware of.
“There’s always been that western rivalry between the teams, but this game would have to be the biggest in a while and our biggest for the season,” Civoniceva told NRL.com.
“At a packed Parramatta Stadium it should be something special. I know the build up to it here in Penrith with the local fans has been amazing,” said Civoniceva.
This time around the Panthers are massive underdogs, with TAB Sportsbet quoting them as $3 outsiders, (despite sitting one place above the Eels on the NRL ladder), against a rampant Parramatta outfit who - on the back of some scintillating performances from Jarryd Hayne - have won their last six games.
Civoniceva knows his team’s ability to limit Hayne’s impact will play a big role in a Panthers win, and the champion front-rower believes doing the simple things well might be the best way to stop the Eels custodian.
“There’s no doubt Jarryd is playing well and he’s probably the form player in the NRL. He is popping up everywhere on the field and playing a lot like Billy Slater. When an opportunity to attack presents itself, he is there.
“It will take a team effort for us to stop him, because it doesn’t matter which part of the field he is in, he can still be dangerous.”
“We have to make sure we keep one line on the kick chase and in general play, because if we present a broken line he will take advantage. Outside of that, stopping the momentum of their pack will be another key.
“A lot of what Hayne has been able to do has come off the back of good work of their pack. Nathan Cayless, Nathan Hindmarsh and Fuifui Moimoi have all been playing very good football and really laying a platform.”
Despite all the talk surrounding Hayne, last time the two teams met it was Penrith flyer Michael Jennings bagging a hat trick in the Panthers’ 38-34 victory.
In a year when many predicted Penrith would never see September action, Civoniceva thinks the speedster and the rest of his team are ready to cause another boilover.
“A lot of people wrote us off at the beginning of the year, and it was disappointing, but the boys have played to their potential, which maybe we haven’t done in past seasons.”
And it has made a huge difference.
“Last time against the Eels, Michael was the difference, he’s our X-Factor. If he plays well then we are always a chance, but at the same time Frank Pritchard was back to his best last week, along with Trent Waterhouse, who has been among our best all year. If they step up there is no reason why we can’t beat Parramatta.”
As for Civoniceva, he assures us there will be no surprise return on Friday night from the toe injury which has hampered his season.
The good news, however, is that a meeting with his specialist on Friday could see him back for a finals campaign.
“It’s frustrating, but I will be watching from the coaches box. Bonnie (my wife) and I were talking about it the other day and it’s the first serious injury I have had since I did my medial ligament in ‘02’.
“Hopefully I’ll get the all clear to resume running on Friday and then it’s up to the team doctors, but if they say yes, I’ll be giving it my best crack to be playing at the end of our season.”
Civoniceva knows crowd support will be crucial in the battle of the west, and would love nothing more than to see a sea of black on Friday night.
“The Penrith fans have been great all season long. I just hope we can fit a lot of them at Parramatta this Friday night.”
Any who do make it should be treated to one of the best games of the season as the Eels and Panthers face off in yet another Glory Bound Blockbuster.
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