Panthers v Eels Preview

Panthers v Eels
CUA Stadium
Saturday, 7:30pm

Clear the schedule, pack your doona – the second instalment of the Western Sydney local derby rolls into CUA Stadium on Saturday night.

Penrith drew first blood with a 32-12 win during the trial (we’ll say it counts) earlier this year, which means Parramatta can pull level with a win over their cross-town competitors. If they can achieve that, we wouldn’t dare rule out a local derby in Week One of the finals. But that’s too far away.

The Panthers-Eels rivalry has generally been shelved in recent years, but the ‘Battle of the West’ returns – which normally means a logjam on the M4, and a busy day at Panthers Leagues.

As we all know, a lot can change in a week of football. Just when we thought the Eels were set to become the disappointments of 2010, Jarryd Hayne and co. manufactured a compelling win over the Cowboys. The Cabramatta junior (who incidentally plays his 100th NRL game here) notched a hat-trick of tries, and was heavily involved in their attack.

The high-flying Panthers, meanwhile, drew criticism after their 12-6 loss to the Warriors. A lot was made of the 59 tackles the New Zealanders had to make in their red zone, and how Penrith were unable to turn it into points. How the Panthers go about setting up their attack this week will be a big focus, especially without linchpin Luke Lewis, who hasn’t been named this week because of a shoulder injury.
 
A solid Penrith debut for ex-Tiger Daine Laurie means Matthew Bell gets a rest, while Frank Pritchard returns from a cork injury.

The Eels have named an unchanged line-up to the one that beat the Cowboys, which means hooker Matt Keating has overcome what looked like a nasty neck injury last round.
 
All in all, it makes for one massive game at the foot of the mountains.

Watch out Panthers: For you Penrith fans, the numbers 3, 161, 12 and 2 should scare you. As in 3 tries, 161 metres, 12 tackle-breaks and 2 line-breaks from the Hayne train last Monday night.

After a reported disagreement with his club coach two weeks ago, Parramatta’s poster boy responded with a best-on-ground performance for NSW, and a man-of-the-match showing against the hapless Cowboys.
 
(Sorry, yes, we know at times they were more Cowgirls than Cowboys, but Hayne’s last two outings alone would scare even the defensive-minded Dragons.)

Eels coach Daniel Anderson should be quietly whispering into the ears of the Keating brothers, who could run amok in the ruck – where Penrith have conceded a league-worst eight tries from dummy-half this year.

Watch out Eels:
The Panthers were criticised for their inept attack against the Warriors last Sunday, but it still didn’t negate the fact that Penrith have scored more points than any other team this season.
 
We doubt Luke Walsh (and his 25 try assists, 23 of which came from the air) will stop putting them up there. Especially given they oppose a team that has conceded 16 tries from kicks in 2010 – the second-most in the NRL.

Penrith mentor Matt Elliott (and centre Michael Jennings) will no doubt welcome the return of Frank Pritchard on the left edge, where Penrith have scored 35 tries this year – almost double that of their right-edge pairing.

Where it will be won: We get the feeling the Eels’ coaching staff have made a copy of last week’s Panthers-Warriors game and made each player watch it 10 times over – paying particularly attention to how the Warriors stunted the Penrith attack.

With the Eels struggling for points as well (before last week, anyway), it simply comes down to how many points the Panthers score. Penrith and Parramatta rank last and second last respectively in line-breaks, so whoever gets the most in that department will be well on the way to winning the game.

The history: Played 80; Parramatta 50, Penrith 29, drawn 1. The two western Sydney sides have split the past 10 games. Last outing was a 48-6 demolition of the Panthers at Parramatta Stadium, smack bang in the middle of the Eels’ juggernaut to last year’s grand final.

But Penrith’s epic 38-34 thriller, which included a Michael Jennings hat-trick, in their last clash at CUA Stadium, will certainly bring some favourable memories to the Penrith faithful.

Conclusion: We’re sorry Penrith fans but we’re going to have to jump off the Blue Mountains line, get on at Parramatta and let the H train go wherever it wants. Just for this week, anyway. Because whenever Jarryd’s in that irrepressible kind of mood, then you can’t help but get the feeling more wins are brewing.

Can they conjure another miracle this year? Probably not; but who knows? Let’s jump on board and find out anyway. At least it will be entertaining.

Match officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Brett Suttor; Sideline officials – Jeff Younis & Ricky McFarlane; Video referee – Russell Smith.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7:30pm.