NRL Team List
I have no doubt that Friday night’s prime time clash against the Penrith Panthers will have match-of-the-round billing through this week. The table-topping Panthers, in the midst a monstrous 12-game winning streak, host the very team they last lost to in the Eels. With Penrith (Cowboys, Bulldogs) and Parramatta (Broncos, Tigers) set to face teams outside of finals contention in the final two weeks, this match represents a massive opportunity for both teams tune-up before sudden death footy.
That is why it is all the more frustrating that the Eels are limping into this game – both figuratively and literally.
Parramatta’s 24-18 victory over the New Zealand Warriors was an important result in the big picture. The Blue & Gold strengthened their grip on a Top 4 finish and kept the chasing hounds that are the Roosters and Raiders at bay for at least another week. However, the Eels were once again unable to recapture the essence and energy that defined their dominant first half of the season and worse – they picked up a number of critical injuries.
Reed Mahoney has been named to play after he was cleared of a significant long-term issue with his shoulder but I would be very surprised if he was anywhere near 100% for Friday. Ray Stone has grown in leaps and bounds in recent weeks but ultimately there is only so much he can do as a relief dummy-half as opposed to Parramatta’s primary ball-handler in Mahoney.
The Eels walk a delicate line with Reed from here on out as they obviously need him as healthy as possible for the finals but conversely require his services to ensure a Top 4 finish. When these teams last met in Round 4 it was one of the most brutal and physical clashes of the season and I doubt the Panthers will dial back that intensity this week and as such it will be a mighty test for that shoulder. I wouldn’t be shocked if Brad Arthur leaned on Stone even more this week.
The other major blow to come out of Round 17 was the loss of Marata Niukore for the remainder of the regulation season. Niukore has been a standout for the Eels either as an impact player from the bench or as a starter when covering injuries or suspensions. The breakout star battled through the rib injury he sustained against the Warriors but was in obvious discomfort as the contest wore on. Kane Evans and Oregon Kaufusi will need to step up to the plate in his absence while Andrew Davey will hold down the fort in his place for the time being.
It might not mean much in the short term but there is a name worth remembering on the extended bench this week as Samuel Hughes makes his first ever appearance on Team List Tuesday. Hughes is one of Parramatta’s blue-chip prospects and the young bookend will be a serious contender for consistent playing time off the bench in 2021
Friday night looms over the Eels as a monumental challenge. They beat the Panthers last they met on a game-plan that featured driven, consistent and punishing defence and the ability to maximise on limited attacking opportunities. The iteration of the Eels that we have more recently come to know is a pale shade of that side and worse, key players are either missing or massively banged-up.
Still, maybe this challenge is exactly what Parramatta needs. Their backs are to the wall this week and they will enter this game as massive underdogs for good reason. If they offer up the same janky and inconsistent brand of football this week then the Panthers will tear them to shreds. Perhaps the cognizance of that fact will galvanise the playing group back into the form and type of play that they know they are capable of producing.
While I always want the win, this is very much a game where a constructive loss could take this team a long, long way. A spark of resilience and determination this Friday could rapidly grow into an inferno in the coming weeks. I know the Eels have been scratchy, I know they are banged up but in way that is all the more reason to show the Panthers exactly what they are made of on Friday night and really take the chance to stick it to the provisional minor premiers for 80-minutes.
|Parramatta Eels||Penrith Panthers|
|1||Clinton Gutherson||1||Dylan Edwards|
|2||Maika Sivo||2||Josh Mansour|
|3||Michael Jennings||3||Brent Naden|
|4||Waqa Blake||4||Stephen Crichton|
|5||Blake Ferguson||5||Brian To’o|
|6||Jai Field||6||Jarome Luai|
|7||Mitchell Moses||7||Nathan Cleary|
|8||Reagan Campbell-Gillard||8||James Tamou|
|9||Reed Mahoney||9||Api Koroisau|
|10||Junior Paulo||10||James Fisher-Harris|
|11||Shaun Lane||11||Viliame Kikau|
|12||Ryan Matterson||12||Liam Martin|
|13||Nathan Brown||13||Isaah Yeo|
|14||Ray Stone||14||Tyrone May|
|15||Andrew Davey||15||Spencer Liu|
|16||Kane Evans||16||Moses Leota|
|17||Oregon Kaufusi||17||Zane Tetevano|
|18||Haze Dunster||18||Mitch Kenny|
|19||Stefano Utoikamanu||19||Kurt Capewell|
|20||Will Smith||20||Matt Burton|
|21||Sam Hughes||21||Charlie Staines|