Eels v Panthers: Arthur sticks solid, Merrin to prop
Playing each other for the second time in five weeks, the Parramatta Eels will be looking to reverse the round one result against western Sydney rivals the Penrith Panthers.
It has so far been a season to forget for the Parramatta Eels as they deal with recent injuries to Jarryd Hayne and Bevan French, as well as the ongoing rehabilitation for Clint Gutherson and his ACL injury. Billed as likely top-four candidates, the Eels need wins and fast if they are to reach those lofty heights.
Penrith on the other hand are enjoying somewhat of a resurgence with James Maloney pulling the strings. Losing Nathan Cleary to injury threatened to derail their campaign but Maloney stood up when it mattered at halfback against the Cowboys last week to give the Panthers a key win and momentum ahead of this derby.
Parramatta Eels v Penrith Panthers, 4.10pm Sunday at ANZ Stadium
Key match-up: Mitchell Moses v James Maloney. Before a ball was kicked a month ago, the pair were locked in a battle with Nathan Cleary to potentially line up for NSW in Origin I. Maloney showed his class against the Cowboys on the weekend, while Moses has been below par in the opening four rounds of the season. The Eels got off to a flyer against Penrith in their round one clash on the back of Moses before he was sent to the sin-bin, and remarkably the Eels haven't been the same side since that moment. It shapes as the biggest battle on the paddock with the Eels desperate for more direction and Penrith relying on Maloney to continue his form.
For the Eels to win: They'll need to address their ill-discipline with the ball, an area Brad Arthur has been filthy with from his side since round one. The Eels found their groove in the final 20 minutes of the clash against the Wests Tigers with some much-needed direction in attack to pile on three tries late – incredibly the only three four-pointers Arthur's side have scored in the final 50 minutes of a game to start the season.
For the Panthers to win: They'll need another strong start. After coming from behind in their first two victories of the season, the Panthers were able to go on with a 12-point half-time lead against the Cowboys and cruise to victory. Anthony Griffin continues to tinker with his line-up following injuries in the forward pack and the side will need to aim up again against the Eels who boast a strong pack that are more than capable on their day.
Eels Stat Attack: It's a matter of going back to the basics for the Eels, who rank 14th in completion rates and 13th in both line breaks and tries after four rounds. The Eels have conceded the fifth most penalties in the competition and are not earning any reprieves of their own, being awarded just 27 penalties - the fewest in the competition - so far.
Panthers Stat Attack: The Panthers may have lost some firepower in the forward pack early in the season through injuries but they've had no issues making metres – averaging 1509.9 per game – on the back of their big men. There were no issues making yardage last year either, but the difference in 2018 has been their end-of-set options, with James Maloney playing a pivotal role. Penrith ranked 13th last year in kick metres – an area they've now added an extra 100 metres per game in the opening four rounds to be third best in the competition.
And another thing: The Eels are facing their worst start to a season since 1991, a statistic no player or fan wants to hear. It doesn't get anymore important for the Eels to win, which spells danger for the Panthers if they show up complacent.
Prediction: Panthers by 10.
Match: Eels vs Panthers
Venue: ANZ Stadium
- Nine Network
- Fox League
- LIVE PASS
Eels: 1 Will Smith, 2 George Jennings, 3 Michael Jennings, 4 Kirisome Auva'a, 5 Josh Hoffman 6 Corey Norman, 7 Mitchell Moses, 8 Daniel Alvaro, 9 Kaysa Pritchard, 10 Tim Mannah (c), 11 Manu Ma'u, 17 Tony Williams, 13 Nathan Brown
Interchange: 12 Tepai Moeroa, 14 Beau Scott, 15 Kenny Edwards, 16 Peni Terepo
Tony Williams will start the match for the Eels, with Tepai Moerea dropping back to the bench. In other news an hour before kick-off, David Gower and Kane Evans were dropped from the bench. Cameron King and Suaia Matagi drop off the extended bench.
Panthers: 1 Dylan Edwards, 2 Josh Mansour, 3 Waqa Blake, 4 Dean Whare, 5 Christian Crichton, 6 Tyrone Peachey, 7 James Maloney, 8 Trent Merrin, 9 Peter Wallace (c), 10 Reagan Campbell-Gillard, 11 Viliame Kikau, 12 Isaah Yeo, 13 James Fisher-Harris
Interchange: 14 Wayde Egan, 15 Corey Harawira-Naera, 16 Moses Leota, 17 James Tamou
After Sione Katoa and Kaide Ellis were dropped from the squad an hour before kick-off, the Panthers still start the match 1-17. Coach Anthony Griffin has unsurprisingly stuck with the squad that got the job done against the Cowboys last Thursday, although James Fisher-Harris has been swapped to lock with Trent Merrin at prop. Jarome Luai and Nick Lui-Toso drop off the extended bench 24 hours before kick-off.
Head-to-head: Played 94; Eels 56 wins; Panthers 37 wins; 1 draw
Matches at venue: Played 2; Eels 2 wins
2017 results: Eels won 18-12 at ANZ Stadium in round 8
Points per game: Eels 9.5; Panthers 23.3
Points conceded per game: Eels 23; Panthers 15.5
Televised: Live on Nine, Fox League