The Parramatta Eels will head into battle against their Western Sydney rivals the Penrith Panthers on Sunday night without their star playmaker Corey Norman, who has been suspended after pleading guilty to MDMA possession earlier this week. Kenny Edwards is likely to partner Jeff Robson in the halves in his place. Meanwhile, the Panthers are expected to be boosted by the return of their Origin stars Matt Moylan and Josh Mansour, however an injury cloud hangs over hooker Peter Wallace. Wallace has been unable to train all week with an elbow injury, and versatile utility Tyrone Peachey is expected to take his place if he is ruled out.
Last Time Out
The Panthers were very disappointing against a Cronulla side that had been weakened by the loss of 5 Origin players. Penrith had the best opportunity of any side to snap the Shark’s 12 game winning streak, however failed to make the most of their chances, falling 26-10. Zak Hardaker was caught out of position several times in his first shot at fullback in the NRL, while Bryce Cartwright can be accused of trying too hard to create opportunities at the unfamiliar position of five eight, as he made several poor attacking choices.
Despite another week full of off field controversy, the Eels once again showed admirable heart and courage to claw their way back from an 18-6 deficit in the 52nd minute to record a 22-18 victory. Corey Norman was outstanding, laying on 4 try assists, with 3 of them coming from pin point grubber kicks that caught young Roosters fullback Latrell Mitchell out of position. Norman will be sorely missed against the Panthers, as will winger Semi Radradra, who suffered an injury against the Roosters that will sideline him for up to 6 weeks.
Matt Moylan will return to the familiar role of fullback on Sunday, after having an impressive game at five-eight for New South Wales on Wednesday, despite it being his first time playing the position in first grade. Moylan displayed his silky skills and vision in the toughest arena, and he will be looking to threaten the Eels defensive line from the back of the park. Moylan’s return will be a boost for the side, after Zak Hardaker struggled to make much of an impact in the custodian role last match.
Moylan’s opposite number, Michael Gordon, will take on the role as the most dynamic player in the Eels spine, following the withdrawal of Corey Norman. With more structured players such as Jeff Robson and Isaac De Gois alongside him, it will be up to Gordon to create a spark in the Eels attack, and use his speed and ball playing to exploit the Panthers defence. Despite Moylan having youth on his side, Gordon still has plenty of speed left in his legs, and he will be determined to get the better of the Origin representative.
The Eels have continued to find a way to win this season, however without their two biggest attacking threats in Norman and Radradra, it is hard to see where all of their points will come from. Penrith will be eager to bounce back from a disappointing loss, and should be strong enough to earn a valuable two points in their quest to fight into the top eight.
Panthers: 1 Matthew Moylan 2 Joshua Mansour 3 Waqa Blake 4 Zak Hardaker 5 Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 6 Bryce Cartwright 7 Nathan Cleary 8 Leilani Latu 9 Peter Wallace 10 Reagan Campbell-Gillard 11 Isaah Yeo 12 James Fisher-Harris 13 Trent Merrin. Interchange: 14 Suaia Matagi, 15 Jeremy Latimore 16 Christopher Grevsmuhl 17 Tyrone Peachey 18 Dylan Edwards 19 William Smith 20 Sitaleki Akauola
Eels: 1 Michael Gordon 2 Clinton Gutherson 3 Michael Jennings 4 Bradley Takairangi 5 Bevan French 6 Corey Norman 7 Jeff Robson 8 Danny Wicks 9 Isaac De Gois 10 Tim Mannah 11 Manu Ma’u 12 Tepai Moeroa 13 Beau Scott. Interchange: 14 Kenneth Edwards 15 Peni Terepo 16 David Gower 17 Daniel Alvaro 18 Rory O’Brien