Panthers v Eels: Five things we learned
Eels coach Brad Arthur and Panthers counterpart Ivan Cleary had plenty to say after Parramatta and Penrith finished off their 2015 preparations in their last pre-season NRL trial.
We take a look at how both teams are shaping up for season 2015.
5. Watmough will teach his teammates how to be tough
He has made a living on being one of the toughest players in the modern era, and it didn't take long in Anthony Watmough's first outing in the blue-and-gold to show us why. The former Sea Eagle copped a knock to the head midway through the first half that he played through, and then got a nasty stinger in his shoulder before the main break. But he still punched out an entire half's work and proved that he's come as advertised. Coach Brad Arthur said his star recruit came through unscathed, but will need to improve with the ball. "He's alright. He's pretty tough, Choc. He was good defensively, he was a bit rusty in attack. Right across the board we need to improve a lot come Round 1 in attack," Arthur said.
4. Arthur desperate to keep Peats on ice
Aggressive hooker Nathan Peats replaced Isaac De Gois in the latter stages of the first half and set up somewhat of a lucky try for fullback Will Hopoate early in the second. And that might've been enough for Arthur to yank his key player from the field in his first game since having twin surgeries on his knee and shoulder. "I was more happy just to get him off and get him on ice to tell you the truth, because he hasn't played for a while. So that was a priority for us. I probably pulled him off a couple of minutes earlier than we were going to but I thought we got enough out of him – got a couple of runs, made a couple of tackles," the Eels coach said.
3. Robinson could steal Sandow's goal-kicking duties
Ex-Raiders winger Reece Robinson could prove to be one of the most astute buys of the season after notching three tries in the win against Penrith. But his nose for the tryline was matched by his radar for the goal sticks, of which he nailed a perfect five from five. Arthur said he would entertain the idea of handing kicking duties to his first choice right winger, although he admitted he'd have a tough time taking it off the man who's got it. "It was an easy decision this week because [Sandow] wasn't here, but we'll have to have a look at it. I don't mind the idea of wingers kicking, [and] give Chrissy a bit of time coming back, talking to the team after a try and controlling the game from there. But I know Chrissy better and he likes to do everything, so we'll see," he said.
2. Cleary warns of early season penalty-a-thon
It was never going to take long for coaches to complain about referees, but Panthers coach Ivan Cleary believes he has seen enough of a trend in the trials to be concerned about an early season avalanche of penalties in relation to stripping the ball. His side was pinged early and often in its trial loss to the Warriors last week and was again in the crosshairs of the whistleblowers on Saturday afternoon. "Most of the ones I thought last week, a lot of them was our doing. [But] I reckon half a dozen penalties we conceded for stripping, where it's just tackling the ball and the ball comes loose. I think we had three in the first 20 minutes. It's close contact stuff, everyone's trying to lock the ball up – that's what you do. There was one where I think one of their blokes just let go – those ones concern me because they're out of context. But it's trials, [the referees are] trying to get their rhythm as well. Early in the season, there's always penalties. It'll be the same again this year," Cleary said.
1. George Jennings likely starter for Round 1
The promising duo of George and Robert Jennings have both had outstanding pre-seasons and it's showing. The younger siblings of former Panthers favourite Michael combined for all three of Penrith's tries, adding to the one Robert scored last week. George's two-try effort on Saturday afternoon just about cemented his inclusion for Round 1. "He's done everything right so far and Josh Mansour won't be there Round 1, so he's certainly a good chance there," Cleary said. "Robert's probably a bit more of a project. He hasn't played much footy in the last couple of years. He's only just turned 19, so we'll see. But he's had a couple of good weeks. He's certainly a player of the future. Whenever that comes, it comes. We're certainly not going to rush him, but he held his own out there and looked pretty good."
Cleary also revealed that the club was close to re-signing boom centre Waqa Blake, who has yet to appear this pre-season due to injuries. "Waqa's another one who had surgery and he's had a few injuries that have banked on that. It's his first full-time pre-season, and he hasn't been able to complete it really. We're just taking it slowly with him. He's got some load he's got to get through. It's a long season. We're actually trying to re-sign him at the moment. We've got a lot of faith in Waqa and he's going to be a part of our club for some time, but we're not going to rush him either," Cleary said.