How will the Panthers respond to the dark days that have enveloped their club in recent weeks when they take on their western Sydney rivals on Sunday afternoon?
The Panthers enter the 2019 Telstra Premiership rated among the top echelon of sides. They'll be determined to put a tough couple of weeks behind them come game day, but achieving such plans is often easier said than done.
The Eels, on the other hand, have had a smooth pre-season. They'll be eager to snare an early scalp following a largely disappointing 2018.
Parra led 14-0 after 30 minutes of the corresponding round one clash last year before the mountain men scored the final 24 points.
The first match of Ivan Cleary's second run as Penrith coach will be closely watched for many reasons.
Panthers: In a string of positional changes announced an hour before kick-off, Moses Leota (prop) and Hame Sele (second row) have been added to the starting side, with Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Jack Hetherington to start on the bench. Sione Katoa (concussion) was ruled out on Saturday, with Wade Egan to start at hooker and Jarome Luai the new utility on the bench. As well as Katoa, Liam Martin dropped off the reserves bench 24 hours before kick-off.
Eels: The Eels will start 1-17, with Josh Hoffman and Oregon Kaufusi the two men omitted an hour out from game time. Junior Paulo and Bevan French were the two men dropped off the bench 24 hours before kick-off.
Nathan Cleary v Mitchell Moses. This is Mitchell Moses' sixth year in the NRL. He has mixed periods of brilliance with others in which he has struggled for consistency. In this match he will take on Nathan Cleary, the Panthers star who has enjoyed a meteoric rise since breaking into the NRL in 2016. If Cleary can continue the upward trajectory he has enjoyed each year of his career, something special beckons in 2019.
For the Panthers to win
Unity is a big word in team sport, and the unity among the Penrith players has been put to the test in recent weeks. On paper, they have a stronger squad than the Eels, so if they're playing with clear minds and a common purpose a win should follow.
For the Eels to win
If the Eels forwards can match it with their Penrith counterparts, it will be up to Clint Gutherson and Moses to work some magic with ball in hand. The pair are good enough to produce match-winning displays on their day. Eels fans are hoping such days come along with regularity in 2019.
And another thing ...
Blake Ferguson had a superb 2018, a string of performances he turned into a multi-year deal with the Eels. If he can replicate that form for his new club, the Eels will have gone a long way towards replacing Parramatta fan favourite Semi Radradra. A big ask, but Ferguson is good enough to make that happen.
Brett Kimmorley says ...
It is round one from last year all over again. It is important for the Penrith side to start playing from the start of games this year. New coach Ivan Cleary focuses on the little things and as a result, I expect Penrith to go really well in 2019. For Parra, Blake Ferguson will start sets really well and Junior Paulo is a big body in the middle, but they've got a rookie hooker and a rookie five-eighth. That puts a bit of pressure on them to start the year.
Panthers by 6
Stat Attack: Panthers
The Panthers topped the NRL missed tackle count in 2018. If they are to turn another season which features finals football into one which has them playing in the final match of the season, their tackling has to improve. It's as simple as that.
Stat Attack: Eels
Finishing with the wooden spoon in 2018 was the stat that still hurts the Eels the most. The fact they only just 15.8 points per game last year was a major contributor that woe. An improvement in that department is sure to lead to more wins.
Head to head in the NRL era (since 1998)
- Played: 38; Panthers 19 wins, Eels 19 wins
- Latest result: Panthers beat Eels 12-6 in round 5, 2018
- At this venue: Panthers 55% wins, Eels 39% wins