Panthers v Eels: Five key points
For the second time in 2016 the Panthers broke Eels fans' hearts with a come-from-behind win. Here are five talking points from Penrith's thrilling 22-18 victory.
Cartwright not overplaying his hand, just one step ahead
Some high-risk passes and offloads from talented back-rower-turned-centre Bryce Cartwright looked at one stage as if they may prove costly. His big back of tricks was constantly a threat however and after the game coach Anthony Griffin said it was a case of the rest of the team needing to better read what he was trying to create after the likes of James Fisher-Harris and Waqa Blake dropped sharp passes that could easily have turned into point-scoring plays.
Griffin said Cartwright had a good game including an important try and noted if Fisher-Harris clung onto a flat Cartwright ball at the line late in the piece he could have scored a match-winner.
"I thought [Cartwright] had a good balance of running when he needed to run," Griffin said.
"The beauty about Bryce Cartwright, he can play a lot of positions. You could put him in the front row and he'd do a job. Put him in the back row or five-eighth. At the moment with the balance of our team he's doing a good job for us.
"I think it's more building an education for the people around him on how to play off him. You see a couple of times there those younger guys with Fisher-Harris and Waqa they just have a little bit of trouble because he's got that ability, he's a bit ahead of everyone he knows what he's doing but they're not quite in sync yet.
"He would have put Waqa Blake through the right hand side there in the first half but they just overran their assignment. He's doing a good job, Brycey."
Eels backs injuries take their toll
Aside from their well-publicised halves crisis (all four top-line halves that started the season in Kieran Foran, Corey Norman, Luke Kelly and Mitch Cornish were unavailable for this game) Parramatta's back five have taken a pummelling in terms of injuries and it proved costly against Penrith.
Centres and wingers in Semi Radradra, Brad Takairangi, Vai Touai and John Folau were all out injured meaning Manu Ma'u started the game in the centres and once Michael Jennings succumbed to a hamstring strain shortly before half time – that looks likely to rule him out of next week's trip to the Gold Coast – another reshuffle was on the cards.
Beau Scott – who had trained at right centre during the week with Jennings in doubt – shifted out wide but three Penrith tries down the channel of the field he was marshalling with rookie Bevan French forced another change and Kenny Edwards took over.
"It's pretty hard for a back-rower defending in the centres out of position and we identified that but I thought we still could have executed better on that edge," said Panthers left-side winger Josh Mansour (one of three players to score in that channel in the second half) after the game.
Eels coach Brad Arthur said: "When we lost 'Jenko' and we had to make some adjustments, our two centres out and playing back-rowers in the centres, we got found out… On Thursday we weren't sure if Jenko was playing so Beauy did a bit of work at right centre and Manu over the left then on Saturday we had to swap them back around again when Jenko was playing. It's not ideal but that wasn't the reason why we didn't win."
How tough is Peter Wallace?
Rugged Panthers half-turned-hooker Peter Wallace may just be the toughest man in league. One of the few men ever to play on with a torn ACL – and almost certainly the only player ever to do so twice – also once famously finished out an Origin game after rupturing a testicle in the first half.
Last week Wallace played on after hyper-extending an elbow and initial fears had him requiring surgery for torn ligaments and facing a long stretch out. After hardly training all week Wallace got through the captain's run unscathed and took his place against the Eels with his elbow heavily strapped.
Take into account the fact Wallace's shift to hooker this season has seen his defensive load skyrocket, then consider he made a whopping 43 tackles against Parramatta with just a single miss, all with his dodgy elbow. Then consider one of those tackles was a try-saving (and match-saving) one to hold up runaway Eel Clint Gutherson in the Penrith in-goal late in the piece and it's no wonder Griffin was singing his praises after the game.
"He was outstanding," Griffin said.
"I think he came up with that held up tackle too which in the end was probably the difference in the game, they looked like they were going to score and get their nose in front. He was outstanding, Pete."
Wallace's teammate Reagan Campbell-Gillard suffered an almost identical injury when he hyper-extended his elbow against the Eels in the first half however with just a five-day turnaround this week he is far less likely to back up for the trip to Brisbane to face the Broncos on Friday night.
Plenty of blue and gold pride despite off-field turmoil
We don't have the room to recap all the things that have gone wrong for Parramatta off the field this year here but what is remarkable is the way Arthur has kept the playing group grounded and focused through it all – and still playing good footy. They may not have got the win against Penrith but considering the avalanche of players departed or unavailable in addition to everything for them to stick in it for 80 minutes and almost come away with a win is impressive in itself.
"I'm so proud of them," Arthur said.
"The effort was great again. Didn't give up. Kept fighting. Try disallowed, held up over the line, scored just as many tries."
He also insisted the club's finals hopes aren't quite gone yet. However seven wins from their last seven games now gets them only to 26 ladder points and as such they'd need a healthy differential boost and other results to go in their favour – and that's if they ran in seven straight wins.
"The boys have got an attitude, a mentality that they've worked way too hard to not respond this way," he said.
"You might tell me we can't make it but we don't think so at the moment. We know we've got to win seven games and if we can do that and end up in the positive for and against we're some chance. It's only a real small bit of hope but we're hanging onto it."
Consistency still eluding Penrith
Despite having their own share of injuries Penrith were widely tipped to be too good for what was left of Parramatta's roster but a horror start (they completed just three of their first seven sets and held just 34 per cent of the ball through to half time) had them well on the back foot.
On Sunday, much like their win at Brookvale in Round 14, they gave up a big lead and ran it down. In between those two wins they almost gave up a match-winning lead against Souths, raced out to a big lead of their own against the Wests Tigers and themselves got steamrolled, as well as completely flaking out against a Sharks side missing five Origin players.
The good bits are very good but the bad bits are too frequent for a team with finals aspirations and their current ninth-place standing is arguably a fair reflection of where they're at despite being good enough to beat just about anyone on their day.
"Happy with the two points but obviously we've still got a lot of work to do," Griffin said.
"No disrespect at all to Parramatta, they were fantastic, but we played for 20 minutes [in that game]. The rest of it was pretty ordinary."
It's hard to argue with that assessment.
"We've just been inconsistent. We've had a couple of good starts too, we started 14-2 against the Tigers... we're just learning how to play 80 minutes," he added.
"Even when we were way on top there at 22-18 and I don't think we completed a set then. It was party time again and wanting to get there too easy. I don't think it's our starts [that are the problem] I think it's our 80 minutes."