Panthers v Eels: Five key points
There were plenty of players running out for the first time in new colours at Pepper Stadium on Saturday night, with the Eels prevailing 22-8. Here are five key points from Parramatta's comfortable win.
New Eels combinations will take time to stick
With a new player in the halves, a new fullback, a centre switching sides, a new winger and a few changes to the forward pack, Parramatta could be expected to start the season looking a little rough. And while some aspects of their execution were as rusty as any side would expect at this time of year, there were encouraging signs in all the new areas. Despite limited time together in the pre-season, five-eighth Corey Norman and new halfback Kieran Foran linked up well on both sides of the field both in the middle and out wide, swinging right around the ruck when needed and getting good service from dummy halves Nathan Peats and Isaac De Gois. New fullback Michael Gordon looked safe as houses at the back and pushed up well in support, new winger Clint Gutherson finished off one well-worked try then got a quarter of a game at fullback when Gordon was rested and looked promising, while centre Brad Takairangi seemed to have a new lease on life back at his preferred right-side centre position.
"You can probably see the boys that have had a hit-out compared to the ones that haven't had a hit-out," Eels coach Brad Arthur said after the game. "The combinations aren't quite there so they'll get better as we go along."
Waqa Blake is banging on the door of first grade
Penrith's full-strength back five currently looks something like this: 1. Matt Moylan, 2. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, 3. Dean Whare, 4. Peta Hiku, 5. Josh Mansour. Whare missed Saturday's trial with a calf strain though should be fit for Round 1. In his stead 21-year-old Blake was arguably Penrith's best player with one clean break (which he backed up by stepping the fullback before being rounded up) and one try (a scarcely believable grounding with most of his body past the dead ball line following what looked a try-saving tackle from Semi Radradra) the highlights.
"He's going well," coach Anthony Griffin said of the youngster. "We just have to see how Dean Whare is. Hopefully he's going to be OK with that calf strain." It's an indication Blake may just have to bide his time.
The Eels will cause some bruises in 2016
All the focus may have been on high-profile recruits Kieran Foran and Michael Jennings but Parramatta's battery of big, powerful and mobile forwards caused no shortage of headaches on Saturday night. It's easy to forget lock Tepai Moeroa is only 20 years old but the Junior Kangaroo and Cook Island international was a powerhouse following on from his star turn at the Auckland Nines and looks set for a massive year. It's also easy to forget that Kenny Edwards is on the Eels roster after the bruising back-rower sat out 2015 with an ACL injury but he was also one of his side's best with some bustling runs and hits and will be almost impossible for Arthur to ignore. Manu Ma'u looks more dangerous as ever, Junior Paulo was monstrous and Peni Terepo may struggle to fit into a full strength 17 but was at his belligerent best against the Panthers as well. Returning youngster Kelepi Tanginoa had a great hit-out in the NSW Cup trial earlier in the day just for good measure.
No dramas from new rule interpretations
Both coaches had few qualms with either the shot clock or the video referees bunker. The shot clock was in regular use for scrums and a handful of dropouts and aside from one drop out where Jamie Soward put boot to ball with two seconds to spare there were no difficulties for either side. The Central Command Centre also looked a success – the above-mentioned Blake try had a lengthy deliberation to confirm the centre hadn't grounded himself dead in goal before scoring but all calls were correct and aside from that one were done very quickly.
"I didn't notice it as being disruptive," Eels Arthur said after the game. "We had the shot clock for Canberra in Round 26 last year. We've done a fair bit of training [for it] in the pre-season. I think the shot clock for the scrums and the dropouts is good, I like that."
Griffin said the shot clock didn't seem to make much difference to the speed of resumptions but was overall happy with the officiating.
"I thought it was alright. I thought they got everything. Shot clock probably, I didn't think it was any change to the game. It might've saved 5-10 seconds. But I thought all the ref stuff was OK," he said.
No injuries always a bonus
Eels skipper Tim Mannah stayed down after an early crusher tackle that left Isaah Yeo on report and while he said after the game he felt a bit of spasming in his neck would be fine for Round 1 in a fortnight. Eels hooker Nathan Peats finished with an iced knee and Penrith prop Leilani Latu a bruised sternum but none are serious. Aside from Dean Whare's calf injury, a shoulder problem which precluded Reagan Campbell-Gillard taking part as well as an ongoing return from knee and shoulder issues for Anthony Watmough, both squads are in good health. Penrith fullback Matt Moylan got through 80 minutes for the first time since a serious ankle injury – coincidentally suffered against the Eels at Pepper Stadium last year – and though rusty got through unscathed.
Arthur confirmed no new injuries for his side while Griffin said of Latu: "Latu's got a little bruised sternum but apart from that, there's a few bumps and bruises but I think everyone will be available come Round 1, which is good. We get Gillard and possibly Whare available for Round 1, which we'll know more this week. Apart from that, I think everyone had a really good tough hit-out."