It’s the western Sydney derby when Penrith Panthers take on Parramatta Eels at Panthers Stadium on Sunday.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
Penrith had one win and one loss during their pre-season. They proved too good for South Sydney Rabbitohs 28-8 in the John Sutton testimonial at Redfern Oval. Two weeks back they were beaten 20-0 by Parramatta Eels in a game where they trailed 4-0 at half time before wrapping in cotton wool star half Nathan Cleary.
Parramatta also recorded one win from two matches in their pre-season. Despite leading for a large portion of the match they went down in the final moments to Canberra Raiders 22-20 at St Mary’s Stadium. Dylan Brown led the way in their win over Penrith Panthers 20-0 at Panthers Stadium in their other warm up fixture.
Penrith have named a strong line-up for the season opener. Dylan Edwards has first crack at fullback with Dallin Watene-Zelezniak to start on the wing. Jack Hetherington gets his chance to make the run-on side after the departure of Trent Merrin during the off-season.
The Panthers lost Sione Katoa to concussion this week which will see Wayde Egan come into the starting thirteen.
Penrith Panthers 21-man squad: 1 Dylan Edwards 2 Josh Mansour 3 Waqa Blake 4 Dean Whare 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 14 Wayde Egan 15 Tyrell Fuimaono 16 Moses Letoa 17 Hame Sele 18 Jarome Luai 19 Tim Grant 20 Liam Martin 21 Malakai Watene-Zelezniak.
Life begins for the Parramatta Eels after Corey Norman. Mitch Moses has been granted his wish with Dylan Brown to partner him in the halves. A fit Clint Gutherson is set to start at fullback. Manly recruit Shaun Lane adds much needed ball playing skills in the forward pack. Tim Mannah will start from the bench.
Parramatta Eels 21-man squad: 1 Clinton Gutherson (c) 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 (c) 16 Kane Evans 17 David Gower. Reserves: 18 Josh Hoffman 19 Oregon Kaufusi 20 Bevan French 21 Junior Paulo.
HEAD TO HEAD
For so long Penrith played little brother to Parramatta in head to head encounters with the Eels holding a generous lead in the winner’s circle. Since 2010 the Panthers have won 10 of the sixteen clashes between the two clubs and four of the last five. In round 1 last year it was a come from behind win for the Panthers 24-14, while in the reverse fixture they held on for a gritty 12-6 victory.
If the expected heavy weather eventuates, the kicking game of both sides hold the key. Origin halves pairing Nathan Cleary and James Maloney will likely have an advantage over Mitch Moses and the inexperienced Dylan Brown, who will more than likely be targeted heavily by the big Panthers pack. Penrith may employ Wayde Egan to kick from dummy half to turn around the Eels pack.
The message from respective coaches Brad Arthur and Ivan Cleary will be to hold onto the ball and punt the ball downfield out of danger and force the error inside the opposition half.
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Sunday March 17
Venue: Panthers Stadium
Kick-off: 4pm (local)
Referees: Ashley Klein, Chris Butler
WHO WILL WIN?
Penrith will go in as favourites but the weather could be the great leveller. If Parramatta can stay in the fight and ware the Panthers down, we’re in for one big contest.
Panthers by 7.