Date: Sunday, 17th March, 2019
Venue: Panthers Stadium Penrith
Kick Off: 4:05pm
Head Referee: Ashley Klein
Assistant Referee: Chris Butler
Head-to-head: Played 113 Panthers 47 Eels 63 Drawn 3
Odds: Panthers $1.50 Eels $2.65
Broadcast: Foxtel, Nine
Last Four Encounters:
Panthers 12 def Eels 6 at ANZ Stadium (2018)
Panthers 24 def Eels 14 at Panthers Stadium (2018)
Eels 18 def Panthers 12 at ANZ Stadium (2017)
Panthers 22 def Eels 18 at Panthers Stadium (2016)
The Warm Up
The good thing about getting walloped in NRL Premiership matches is that you can front the next week and redeem yourself.
The problem with finishing a season with the wooden spoon is that the next step in redemption is almost six months away.
Eels fans don’t need reminding about the abomination of 2018. The supporters from the Riff have no issues with jogging the memory whenever they see someone wearing the Blue and Gold. It’s that sort of relationship between Parra and their younger brother from out west.
But footy battles are won on the field, not up in the stands, and the Eels fired the first salvo of 2019 with a convincing 20 to nil trial victory just two short weeks ago.
Basing Premiership tipping on trial results is as clever as sharing your home movies with a few “mates”, but there was plenty to like about the Eels attitude, particularly in defence.
The Eels go into this clash without three key forwards – Paulo, Terepo and Ma’u. That leaves significant impact players sitting on the sidelines.
Over the past month, the Panthers have created more drama than a season of MAFS. Such controversy could either derail a team’s campaign or galvanise the players against the big, bad world.
Episode One is about to air on Sunday arvo. I can’t wait.
Having a Punt:
First round punting is fraught with danger, so punters beware. With no form line to guide the betting dollar, it’s a genuine roll of the dice.
So I’m going to consider the weather and take a chance that the Eels will start well. With that in mind, the bet will be in the first half line/over under double market – take Parra getting 3.5 points start, with less than 20.5 points scored @ 2.90 with NSW TAB. The first try favourites are listed below:
Eels: Sivo, Ferguson both $11
Panthers: Mansour, Blake, Watene-Zelezniak all $9
Feed Your Footy Brain
The Eels will field three former Panthers in Jennings, Smith and Sivo. The Panthers’ Tyrell Fuimaono played lower grades with the Eels before joining the Rabbitohs.
Four players are making their club debut for Parra – Ferguson, Lane, Brown and Sivo. It’s an NRL debut for Brown and Sivo.
Tracking: Shaun Lane
Former Sea Eagle, Shaun Lane, is an astute addition to the Eels line up.
The tall back rower enjoyed the best season of his NRL career in 2018 after less than stellar stints with the Bulldogs and the Warriors. Lane proved to be one of the Silvertails most potent attacking weapons last year, crossing the stripe on 9 occasions and making 24 NRL appearances.
With one of the best offloads in the game, Lane provides a skill set which will aid the Eels capacity to produce more second phase football.
It’s early days in his Eels career, and undoubtedly Lane’s team mates are still learning to read his play. It will be interesting to track how that develops during the season.
Danger man: Waqa Blake
In the corresponding match last season, a phenomenal solo effort from Waqa Blake late in the first half turned the game on its head and in retrospect signalled the horrors that lay ahead for the Eels.
The Panthers flyer is one of the gun attacking centres in the NRL. At 190cm and around 100kg, he poses a threat with his carries and his capacity to out leap his opponents.
Although he graduated to the Panthers senior ranks via the NYC, Blake is actually a product of the West Australian S G Ball team. At 24 years of age, the Fijian international is ready to deliver his best football in a team tipped by a few pundits to win the premiership.
Limiting his opportunities to get outside his man and use the combination of his pace and fend must be a priority for the Eels. They won’t want the spectre of 2018 to appear once again.
Panthers: 1. Dylan Edwards 2. Josh Mansour 3. Dean Whare 4. Waqa Blake 5. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 6. James Maloney 7. Nathan Cleary 8. James Tamou 9.Sione Katoa 10. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 11. Jack Hetherington 12. Isaah Yeo 13. James Fisher-Harris
Interchange: 14. Wayde Egan 15. Tyrell Fuimaono 16. Moses Leota 17. Hame Sele 18. Jarome Luai 19. Tim Grant 20. Liam Martin 21. Malakai Watene-Zelezniak
Eels: 1. Clint Gutherson 2. Maika Sivo 3. Michael Jennings 4. Brad Takairangi 5.Blake Ferguson 6. Dylan Brown 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Daniel Alvaro 9. Reed Mahoney 10. Tepai Moeroa 11. Shaun Lane 12. Marata Niukore 13. Nathan Brown
Interchange: 14. Will Smith 15. Tim Mannah 16. Kane Evans 17. David Gower 18.Josh Hoffman 19. Oregon Kaufusi 20. Bevan French 21. Junior Paulo
Dylan Brown vs James Maloney
James Maloney is a winner.
From his NSW Cup Premiership with Wenty, to the titles he’s won with the Roosters and Cronulla, he’s added significant value to every team he’s played in.
The reason is simple. He never wavers in his self belief.
If he makes a mistake, and there are plenty in his game, he just gets on with business and changes nothing in the way he’s playing. This is the hallmark of a quality player.
The jury might still be out on his combination with Cleary, after all they can both be dominant halves. What we do know is that he’ll count the defence, pick opportunities, and go for it. The Eels will want to limit his effectiveness by sending heavy traffic his way and busting him up physically. Read as ditto for Cleary.
Dylan Brown makes his much anticipated NRL debut against a wily opponent who won’t stop getting in his ear. But the young Kiwi is not your typical 18 year old.
A graduate of the Eels Junior Rep program after moving across the ditch, the talented half was always going to be in the top grade at a young age.
Brown was elevated to NYC soon after turning 17, and his progress was so rapid that he only made a handful of ISP appearances before joining the full-time squad.
At this stage of his development, lining up against an old fox like Maloney will be a tremendous learning experience. Confident and composed, Brown won’t be overawed by the occasion. And that’s exactly what his team will need.
And The Winner Is?
If this was a full strength Eels forward pack, I’d confidently predict an Eels victory. However, there’s a huge hole in the middle without Junior, Peni and Munz.
On the other side of the coin, the Eels capacity to roll up the field on the back of two big wingers is a huge improvement on last year. Sivo and Ferguson will get sets off to big starts with their carries.
Ferguson is a great communicator and will also assist the Eels defence.
The Panthers deliberately didn’t fire a shot during their trial. There’s no hiding the talent in the Panthers line up and the confidence exuded by their fans is understandable.
In wet conditions, this is likely to be a six points or less game, with the team keeping mistakes to a minimum and executing their kicking game probably earning the spoils.
I’ll open this season by tipping the Eels to win.
Eels 20 Panthers 14
Man of the Match – Mitch Moses