2020 NRL Round 18 Preview, Panthers Vs Eels

Nathan Smith previews the match between the Penrith Panthers and Parramatta Eels. This is what we have to look forward to.


Penrith Panthers

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Penrith made it twelve straight wins to continue an impressive 2020 campaign and remain outright first on the ladder. It must be said, it was a scrappy win over the Broncos given their possession and were made to earn it, but they’ve proven throughout the year that they can excel in both attack and defence. The only game they’ve lost this year happens to be against the Eels, however, unlike the last time they met, Penrith are now in far better form and the firm favourites.

Parramatta Eels

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Parramatta showed some signs of attack in the opening thirty minutes against the Warriors, where they put on three tries and looked to blow them off the park. To the Warriors credit, they hung on and crawled back into the game, only just falling short with the final score reading 24-18. Parramatta continued to have issues with lapses in concentration, edge defence and communication, however, their were promising signs with their attack showing a bit of energy. They will want to do that for 80 minutes if they’re any hope of beating the Panthers.


Penrith Panthers

1. Dylan Edwards 2. Josh Mansour 3. Brent Naden 4. Stephen Crichton 5. Brian To’o 6. Jarome Luai 7. Nathan Cleary 8. James Tamou 9. Apisai Koroisau 10. James Fisher-Harris 11. Viliame Kikau 12. Liam Martin 13. Isaah Yeo 14. Tyrone May 15. Spencer Leniu 16. Moses Leota 17. Zane Tetevano 18. Mitch Kenny 19. Kurt Capewell 20. Matt Burton 21. Charlie Staines

Parramatta Eels

1. Clinton Gutherson 2. Maika Sivo 3. Michael Jennings 4. Waqa Blake 5. Blake Ferguson 6. Jai Field 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 9. Reed Mahoney 10. Junior Paulo 11. Shaun Lane 12. Ryan Matterson 13. Nathan Brown 14. Ray Stone 15. Andrew Davey 16. Kane Evans 17. Oregon Kaufusi 18. Haze Dunster 19. Stefano Utoikamanu 20. Will Smith 21. Samuel Hughes


These two teams have met on 99 occasions, with Parramatta holding a slight advantage at 58 wins to 40. Furthermore, despite Penrith having an obvious advantage playing at home, Parramatta has actually beaten them more often, having won 24 of their 48 games played at the foot of the mountains. These teams last met earlier this year, where Parramatta defeated Penrith 16-10. The two teams met twice last year and won a match each. Overall, the head to head stats are pretty even, which suggests we could be in for a great match.


The Big Boppers: James Fisher-Harris vs. Junior Paulo

There’s many match ups across the field that will dictate this game. As with any game of rugby league, one of the key areas a team needs to win to give themselves any chance is the middle of the field. That’s where big blokes like these two come into play.

There’s a firm argument to be made that James Fisher-Harris is one of the most underrated props playing the game. He’s been a treat to watch for years, yet his name never seems to enter the conversations around which props are the best in the competition. Certainly in 2020, he’s taken his game to another level.

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Fisher-Harris averages at 160 metres per game, 28 tackles and 8 tackle busts. It’s the metres he’s making that truly defies belief: he has run 3200 metres across his 348 runs this year, which makes him the only prop in the top five of either statistical category. His efforts don’t end with the ball, as he’s also made 131 decoy runs throughout the season. All in all, it’s clear that James Fisher-Harris is one of the top tier props this year and will need to be stopped if Parramatta wants to assert their dominance in the middle.

Junior Paulo has had an exceptional season for the blue and gold that has resulted in his name being tossed around as a possible debutant for New South Wales. Certainly, he wouldn’t look out of place playing representative footy given what he’s achieving on the field.

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Paulo averages at 141 metres per game, 23 tackles and 39 tackle busts. That final statistic is an important one in terms of the way he likes to play, as Paulo doesn’t just like to do the hard yards, but also break free and find opportunities to spread the ball. This is evident given he shares the top spot for offloads with David Klemmer at 41. Through attracting defenders and pushing forward, and then releasing the ball, Paulo often allows his backs to swiftly spread it out and take advantage of holes in the defence.

Two in form props battling it out in the middle on a warm Spring night in Penrith. It’s the stuff dreams are made of if you’re a footy tragic. Whoever wins this battle goes a long way towards putting their side on the ascendency and helping them secure the two points.


With Penrith in superb form, and Parramatta just scraping through their matches, it’s hard to see the Eels coming away with a win. Penrith’s last win wasn’t exceptional, however, they were in control the entire game and never looked like losing. Ultimately, this is their game to lose.

Penrith by 10

Date: Friday September 11, 2020
Venue: Panthers Stadium
Kick-off: 7:35pm

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