ROUND 5: Parramatta Eels v. Penrith Panthers (Bankwest Stadium, 12/6/20)

The Panthers had scored 26 unanswered points over the Warriors, and Parramatta had enjoyed a very lucky win over the Sea Eagles, when they met at Bankwest Stadium for Friday night football in Round 5. The Eels got a restart on their first set, but Josh Mansour proved safe under a Mitchell Moses high ball in his first contest with Blake Ferguson. Still, Parra got a dropout, and Dylan Brown broke through the line on the second play, shrugging off a series of tackles before Isaah Yeoh spearheaded a pack effort to hold him up right on the line. Moses was the next to almost break through, dodging and weaving around Viliame Kikau on the right edge, but the blue and gold lost their rhythm when Nathan Brown was surrounded in the middle of the park. Dylan Brown took the next kick to the left corner, and Brian To’o knocked on, getting the Eels the scrum feed from the ten, and headed left on the second play, where Shaun Lane made a good offload to Clint Gutherson. It didn’t do much, though, since the Panthers amped up their defence, as To’o made up for his lost ball with a trysaving tackle on Michael Jennings, before Moses kicked again to the right edge on the last.

Fergo was now defied by the high ball for a second time, leaping up and popping the Steeden back to Ryan Matterson to cross over, but not without pushing Dean Whare out of the way. Finally, five minutes in, Penrith got a touch of the football, and then their first restart, only for Kikau to flick the footy forward while trying to offload out of a Ferguson tackle to Cleary on his outside edge. Reagan Campbell-Gillard made good metres on the next set, and this time Moses went left, where Maika Sivo knocked on in goal, getting the Panthers seven tackles. Jarome Luai almost broke through the line, Kikau almost crashed across on the left edge and then, eight minutes in, the Panthers finally got to their last play – a kick from Nathan Cleary to the right corner, where Whare soared up to catch the footy on the full and ground it all in one seamless motion, but not without brushing away Jennings in the process. Both teams had now had a try called back for an escorts penalty, and so the game seemed to be reset – especially once Mansour caught Moses’ next bomb as cleanly as he had the first kick of the night.

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By contrast, Sivo totally missed the bounce at the end of the next Penrith set, while Whare was just as safe under Moses’ next kick as Sauce had been. Little by little, the Panthers were starting to take control of the match, so it was a big statement when Junior Paulo made the biggest hit of the night to stop Caleb Aekins dead in his tracks. Still, the Penrith fullback followed Mansour and Whare with a strong take under Moses’ kick a set later, this time in the face of a strong chase from Jennings and Dylan Brown, as the Panthers gradually steadied the ship, and started to even out the possession, after having survived the first five minutes. Ryan Matterson managed a deft offload to Waqa Blake next time he had ball in hand, but the mountain men remained strong, refusing to concede any errors or penalties as they waged a war of attrition, waiting for the Parramatta line to crack. It happened on the Eels’ next set, when Jennings coughed up a pass from Lane – the first casualty of the greasy conditions – and the Panthers responded with one of their best sets so far, culminating with a good Cleary kick that trapped Blake in goal for the first dropout of the game.

Gutherson booted the ball along the ground, and RCG upstaged Paulo with one of the biggest hits of the year on James Fisher-Harris, putting a real dent in the Panthers’ momentum. They didn’t really recover until the fourth tackle, when Fish took another carry, and set up a right sweep that ended with Cleary kicking for himself to the right corner, where he would have scored if not for the most desperate, scrambling defence so far from the blue and gold army. For a moment, it looked like the Panthers might respond in kind, and keep the Eels in their own end for most of the next set, so Fergo was exuberant to see Luai pinged for an offside error. Yet Parra didn’t have long to celebrate, as Paulo dropped the footy under pressure from Cleary a few tackles later – a nice riposte to his hit on Aekins – and Penrith acted fast, as Luai compensated for his error with a kick off the right boot and then a follow-up chase with Mansour and Stephen Crichton to trap Gutho in goal for a second dropout. The mountain men now had a chance to do the dropout over after RCG’s huge tackle on JFS had quashed their earlier effort, and they scored the first points now, after a restart on the first play.

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It all came out of a right sweep that didn’t necessarily look all that promising at first – a pass from Cleary to Aekins, and then a pass from Aekins that bounced on the ground before To’o scooped it up and made a bee line for the right corner. Reading the field perfectly, he barged through a low tackle from Sivo, shrugged off Nathan Brown, and then relied on the momentum of the tackle, now compounded by a late effort from Gutherson, along with the slipperiness of the pitch, to carry the footy across the line without committing a double movement. While Cleary missed the conversion, this was still a big statement from Penrith given the opening five minutes of the game, and they continued their attritional approach, surviving a few errors before setting up their third dropout, and forcing a dangerous tackle and holding down from Mitchell Moses and Kane Evans respectively. Finally, four minutes out from the siren, they consolidated once again, with a superb left sweep that saw Cleary capitalise on a decoy run from Kikau to get the footy across to Luai, and Luai draw in Ferguson and force him to overcommit to a catch-and-pass from Crichton a moment later.

By the time Mansour received the footy on the wing, he was completely unmarked, storming over for his second try this year – an emotional sight for Penrith fans – before Cleary added the extras to put the mountain men ten ahead. For a moment it looked like the Panthers must capitalise immediately after the siren, since this was almost the exact opposite of the first stanza – an accumulation of Penrith field position that started with a penalty for Evans for working on the ground less than a minute into play. Gutho made a successful Captain’s Challenge to contest a subsequent call of knock-on, proving that the footy had sailed clean through his hands and hit his knees, but the Challenge didn’t really achieve much, since the Panthers recovered the footy at the end of the set, while Gutho made a mistake under Moses’ next bomb anyway. Jenko was the next to concede field position, throwing a risky pass to Sivo who was covered on the outside, and then the Eels finally got some breathing-space when Zane Tetevano coughed up the Steeden in the face of a combined tackle from Lane and Reed Mahoney.

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Moses made the most of this shift with a kick in the right corner, and ran in to help Matterson trap Whare in goal for the first Parra dropout, but the repeat set came to nothing when Peni Terepo fumbled the footy off Cleary’s kick, paving the way for a sequence of errors from both teams. The Eels got their next chance when Crichton lost a Moses kick in goal, but Blake didn’t have time to ground it, focusing too intently on his rival no. 4 to see how easily he could have got the ball down. If Blake had even fallen the right way he might have scored inadvertently, since the top half of his torso came pretty close to the footy, but even so the blue and gold had a dropout here. They glimpsed their first try when an offload from Brown to Brown in the left corner ushered in a rapid sequence of passes and second phase passes, but To’o still came up with the Steeden at the end of it, capping off one of the most agile periods of defence from Penrith so far.

Still, the Eels were building towards a crescendo and, finally, as the last quarter started, they got the pair of errors they needed – a grapple from Crichton, an escort from JFH – to build the field position for a brilliant trio of tries. The first came immediately after JFH was penalised, as a pair of wide passes from Moses and Matterson opened up space on the right edge for Blake, who put a massive fend in on Crichton’s chest to smash over on the wing. Moses missed the kick, keeping it a six point game, but Blake quickly went from tryscorer to try assister, breaking through on the right edge, and offloading out of an ankle tap from Kikau to set up Gutho for a run down the middle of the field, and a putdown with only Cleary as last line of defence. This time, Moses added the extras, and then the try assist a few sets later, where he made his best kick of the night off a near-linebreak from Nathan Brown – a low, questioning grubber that forced Aekins to wait and circle before the bounce was safe, only for Matterson to storm up from behind and collect the footy from below, slamming over for another four points.

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Once again, Moses added the extras, and all of a sudden the Eels had gone from a ten point deficit to a six point lead. Granted, Penrith were only a converted try behind, but this turnaround was so dramatic and emphatic that they already felt shut out as the last ten minutes arrived. The critical moment came with four minutes to go, when an Aekins error got Parra another set right on their line, and a chance for Moses to add a field goal from right in front, only for the footy to swerve to the left of the posts. Penrith now had to use their next touch of the ball – seven tackles – to bring the game to golden point, and they glimpsed a chance when Liam Martin made a big run up the right side. Gutho now stepped up in a big way, cleaning up Martin and then neutralizing a Matt Burton kick in goal on the other side of the field, conceding the dropout but preventing the try. The dropout would be Penrith’s last set of the night, and Moses Leota got them rolling with a big opening carry, before Cleary made a characteristically courageous charge after receiving a short ball in the middle of the park.

Kikau and Burton lunged at the line on the left edge, and Cleary’s kick came off Stone’s lower body, getting the mountain men six to go with thirty seconds on the clock. Desperate, Dylan Brown conceded a professional foul, and was sent to the bin, as Penrith got one last play, sending the Steeden rapidly to the left where Crichton offloaded, Koroisau offloaded, and finally Mansour offloaded, only for the Eels to finally clean up the play, and come away with their first five consecutive wins since 1989. They’d gone from zero points on the board to scoring three tries in six minutes, so they’ll be pumped to see what further records they can break when they take on the Roosters for a Saturday night blockbuster next weekend. On the other side of the Steeden, this was still a rousing effort from Penrith, but they’ll be looking to finish more convincingly when they host Melbourne at Campbelltown in Round 5.

About Billy Stevenson (509 Articles)
Massive NRL fan, passionate Wests Tigers supporter with a soft spot for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and a big follower of US sports as well.

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