Robinson steals spotlight in Eels trial win
It was Will Hopoate's first game at fullback and Anthony Watmough's first outing in Eels colours, but it was unheralded signing Reece Robinson who stole the spotlight in Parramatta's pre-season 30-22 victory against Penrith at Pepper Stadium on Saturday.
The former Raider bagged a hat trick and kicked five goals from five attempts for a personal haul of 22 points that cemented his spot in Brad Arthur's side for their season-opener against Manly in less than two weeks time.
"He done good," coach Brad Arthur said post-game.
"All of the boys created some reasonable opportunities for him on the inside. If we tidy a few things up, he might've had a couple more. His strength is going to be his speed, finishing off a few movements."
Eels hitman Darcy Lussick showed that things are heating up in the lead-up to Round 1 with an 8th minute high shot on Panthers fullback Matt Moylan that landed the big prop on report.
After the big hit came the big play, though it was the Panthers who executed a right-side shift off the ensuing penalty when Dean Whare showed quick hands for wingman David Simmons to score. Jamie Soward completed the perfect start with a sideline conversion.
Parramatta hit back through a dubious 27th minute try to Robinson when second-rower Tepai Moeroa fumbled the regather off his own grubber and put the right winger away on his second grab.
The home side regained the lead through another rehearsed left shift, this time utilising Jamal Idris' magic mits that allowed Moylan to put George Jennings over six minutes later.
And just as the Panthers looked headed for a well-earned lead at the break, Robinson latched onto a curious Brent Kite floater in the 38th minute and raced 50 metres to help lock the scores at 12-all.
Not content with a first half brace, Robinson completed his hat trick when he finished off some more flashy ball work from Hopoate in the 43rd minute to give the visitors their first lead of the game.
But the Panthers hit back straight away, Moylan again exploiting Parramatta's fringe defence in a 47th minute right side movement that ended in a try to 19-year-old flyer Robert Jennings. Soward missed his conversion for the first time in the afternoon, but Parramatta's advantage was pegged back to two points.
But it didn't take long for the Eels to extend their lead. Hopoate displayed quick reflexes to pounce on a Nathan Peats pass off the ground to score under the posts just four minutes later, and then winger Semi Radradra took a looping pass from Corey Norman to score in the 63rd minute.
The Panthers got one back in the 76th minute when George Jennings nabbed his second and entertained the crowd in search of another, but in the end it was all too late.
Arthur, while pleased with the contributions of star trio Watmough, Hopoate and Peats, was most satisfied with his side's clutch defence.
"I thought our intent was pretty good. There's still a few things there we need to tidy up. We got a bit loose at times," he said.
"But we scrambled well and I was really encouraged by that effort right at the death there. They might've went through 20 sets of hands and we just kept working to the ball. And most of those boys were the young kids, which is good for us."
Panthers coach Ivan Cleary said his side's performance reflected their pre-season, which had been interrupted by players struggling for peak fitness.
"First half I was pretty happy with. All in all, I actually thought we created plenty of chances, but just conceded some pretty average tries in different circumstances really – an intercept, pretty scrappy ones where we just switched off," he said.
"But we finished the game strongly. Still, it was a fair way off being our top team. We're still dealing with trying to get players back and get them conditioned and all that sort of stuff. All in all, a decent hitout. But we've still got a way to go, for sure."
Eels halfback Chris Sandow and centre Brad Takairangi both missed the trial but should be fit for selection in their season-opener against Manly.
For the Panthers, wingers Josh Mansour and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, as well as forwards Nigel Plum, Adam Docker and Tyrone Peachey were also on the sidelines, with only Mansour a certainty to miss their Round 1 clash against the Bulldogs.
Penrith 22 (G. Jennings 2, R. Jennings tries; Soward 3 goals) def. by Parramatta 30 (Robinson 3, Hopoate, Radradra tries; Robinson 5 goals). Halftime: 12-all.