Holden Cup Preview: Eels v Panthers
Holden Cup Preliminary Final: Eels v Panthers
The pride of Sydney's west will battle it out for a spot in the Holden Cup Grand Final when the Eels take on the Panthers on Saturday afternoon.
Parramatta have never made an NYC decider but this appears to be their best chance after they thrashed the minor premiers, Cronulla, in Week One of the finals to earn a well-timed rest.
They've been dealt a blow with star halfback Troy Dargan ruled out with injury, with Dylan Brown thrust into the halves to partner co-captain Dean Matterson.
Penrith will head into the local derby on the back of a confidence-boosting win over the Broncos but must overcome their hot and cold form that has seen them trade wins for losses since Round 22.
Why the Eels can win: Parramatta fans who are still grieving about Semi Radradra's move to French rugby should fear not. While the 'Semi-trailer' is a huge loss, the Eels have a readymade replacement in Greg Leleisiuao waiting in the wings to take his spot next year. The bulldozing winger has been unstoppable in the NYC this season with a whopping 223 tackle breaks in 20 matches, including 17 busts and two tries in the qualifying final win over the Sharks. Leleisiuao also averages 213 metres per game and is the man Penrith must stop if they want to advance to the decider.
Why the Panthers can win: While this might be foreign territory for their opponents, this time of year is when the Panthers usually thrive. Should they run out winners on the weekend, it'll be the third year in a row – and fourth time in five years – that the Panthers have advanced to the grand final. It's an incredible achievement for Penrith who have utilised their vast nursery of local talent to claim premierships in 2013 and 2015. History suggests they're due another title based on the every-second-year theory and it's a testament to their culture that they find themselves in this position again.
Televised: Fox Sports 2 – live coverage from 4:55pm.
NRL.com predicts: Eels by 10.