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2021 NRL Semi-Final Preview, Panthers Vs Eels

Nathan Smith previews the Penrith Panthers up against the Parramatta Eels. This is what we have to look forward to.

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TEAM NEWS

Venue: BB Print Stadium, Mackay, Date: Saturday, 18th of September, Time: 7:50pm

Penrith Panthers Team

1. Dylan Edwards
2. Stephen Crichton
3. Paul Momirovski
4. Matt Burton
5. Brian To’o
6. Jarome Luai
7. Nathan Cleary
8. Moses Leota
9. Apisai Koroisau
10. James Fisher-Harris
11. Viliame Kikau
12. Kurt Capewell
13. Isaah Yeo
14. Mitch Kenny
15. Scott Sorensen
16. Tevita Pangai Junior
17. Liam Martin
18. Spencer Leniu
19. Izack Tago
20. Brent Naden
21. Tyrone May

Team Changes

IN: Brent Naden, Dylan Edwards, Moses Leota, Scott Sorensen, Tyrone May
OUT: Charlie Staines, Matthew Eisenhuth

Parramatta Eels Team

1. Clinton Gutherson
2. Haze Dunster
3. Will Penisini
4. Waqa Blake
5. Blake Ferguson
6. Dylan Brown
7. Mitchell Moses
8. Reagan Campbell-Gillard
9. Ray Stone
10. Junior Paulo
11. Shaun Lane
12. Marata Niukore
13. Nathan Brown
14. Will Smith
15. Isaiah Papali’i
16. Bryce Cartwright
17. Ryan Matterson
18. Makahesi Makatoa
19. Oregon Kaufusi
20. Top Opacic
21. Jake Arthur

Team Changes

IN: Jake Arthur, Oregon Kaufusi, Ryan Matterson
OUT:

Referee: Ashley Klein

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Penrith Panthers

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The Penrith Panthers lost their opening finals game to the South Sydney Rabbitohs (16-10). As a result, they will now have to take the long road towards a possible premiership by first facing the Parramatta Eels this week, and if they win, the Melbourne Storm the week after. It’s a much tougher path to take, but one that this Penrith team is more than capable of tackling.

Moses Leota and Dylan Edwards are both back in the side after pulling out for the Rabbitohs game. As a result, Stephen Crichton moves to the wing, with Charlie Staines making way for him, while Matt Eisenhuth makes way in the forwards. Finally, Scott Sorensen makes his return to the bench in place of Spencer Leniu.

Parramatta Eels

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The Parramatta Eels chalked up just their second finals win across their past seven appearances in a closely contested match against the Newcastle Knights. It would have been a massive relief for both coach and players, with their last finals win coming in the opening round of 2019. They will be looking to build upon that this week in what will truly test whether, as a team, they can rise to another level in a high stakes game.

Ryan Matterson returns to the side having been named on the bench, with Makahesi Makatoa making way for him. Joey Lussick is still out with injury, meaning the hooking duties will be shared between both Ray Stone and Will Smith.

PREVIEW

This is the type of game the rivalry between these two sides deserves; an all or nothing finals match that sees the winner go one week closer to the grand final, and the loser call it a day for 2021.

The Panthers are in a situation unfamiliar to them in recent years. Their team has run around with an air of confidence and belief that had made victory seem inevitable, rather than a possibility. Indeed, last week’s match against the Rabbitohs was widely considered a match that would see the Panthers come out on top comfortably enough. In losing, their backs are suddenly against the wall and the pressure is on.

How they respond will define how the rest of the year plays out for them. It’s no easy feat playing right through to the grand final, and then going on to win it as well. This is particularly true for the side of the draw the Panthers find themselves on, which has the winner of this match facing off against the consistently excellent Melbourne Storm for a grand final spot.

The Eels are similarly in an unfamiliar situation; they’re coming off of a rare finals victory. Over the past few seasons, their ability to make the top eight has rarely been questioned. What has been, however, is their capability of doing anything with that position. In defeating the Newcastle Knights last week, they won only their second finals match since 2019 (having lost both in 2020.) It’s hard to develop a winning culture and very easy to develop a losing one; the Eels would hope that after last week, they’re on track to reversing their lack of success in September.

This match promises to be a cracker. The battle between the forwards is what will define this, as both sides boast huge packs who aim to out muscle their opposition to set a platform for their backs. Last week, the Eels combination of Junior Paulo, Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Isaiah Papali’i took ownership of the middle of the field. In attack, they burst through defenders and offered quick play the balls for their backs, while in defence, they bashed and bruised the Knights forwards. If there is one aspect between the two sides that Eels can match it with the Panthers, it’s their forwards.

Conversely, the Panthers forwards were outplayed by their Rabbitohs opposites, which went a long way towards deciding the result. One example that illustrates this is the lack of metres made by their starting props: 79m for James-Fisher Harris and 35m for Matthew Eisenhuth. For the Rabbitohs, Mark Nicholls made 106m while Tevita Tatola ran for an astounding 144m. Quite simply, they were outmuscled in the middle of the field and unable to play their usual game because of it. They will be thankful for the return of Moses Leota, who with an average of 101m per game, will help rectify last week’s issues.

The area where the Panthers have it over the Eels is their backline. The match-ups are largely one sided, particularly in the halves, with Cleary and Luai proven performers on the big stage across both past finals matches and, more recently, the 2021 State of Origin series. That said, Mitchell Moses took a step towards shaking off his detractors, who suggest he’s incapable of performing when it counts, after a big game last week. It doesn’t get easier for him, however, and he will need to put in a perfect knock to get it over Nathan Cleary.

All in all, the western Sydney derby is a highlight of this year’s finals series and is promising to deliver a fast, physical and passionate game of rugby league.

KEY STAT

Overall, the head to head stats favour the Parramatta Eels, who have won 58 of their 102 games. However, Penrith have had an edge on them of late, having won three straight games against their rivals. Their most recent, a 40-6 hammering, isn’t a great reflection on the team’s playing this round, given the Eels had rested a large majority of their key players for that one. Earlier in the year, they played in a one point thriller (13-12) with both sides close to full strength. That might be closer to what we can expect for this match.

PREDICTION

This should be a closely fought match. As mentioned, both sides have huge forward packs who will battle it out and refuse to give away an inch. The Panthers main advantage is that they have a genuine starting hooker (whereas will have Ray Stone and Will Smith fill in for their injured hookers), and that their backline is far more proven on this stage. Ultimately, it will go down to the wire, with the Panthers the likely team to snag victory and move on to the next week.

Panthers by 2

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