The Penrith Panthers have defeated the Parramatta Eels by 16-10 in a scrappy affair at Bankwest Stadium to kick off the NRL's annual Indigenous Round.
The man most under the microscope, incumbent Blues number seven Nathan Cleary took control of the second half, coming up with a crucial charge down to regain possession and then scoring a crucial try to give his side the lead. The under pressure halfback then guided his side to victory with a strong kicking game at the backend to secure a gritty and much needed win for his club.
This match won't go down as the best game of the year, with both sides guilty of some dreadful handling errors throughout the match. In fact at times it was anyone's guess as to which side could keep possession for long enough to have a shot at winning the game.
The Panthers however were far more desperate for the win, with some excellent goal line defence late in the match securing a valuable victory to lift the Panthers off the bottom of the ladder. Returning to first grade after being dropped to reserve grade last week, former Internationals Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Josh Mansour were outstanding in their return. Mansour was in particular impressive, running for over 200m.
Penrith came into the match under enormous pressure and it showed with their first touch, with fullback Dylan Edwards knocking on in the play the ball deep inside his own half. The Eels didn't let the opportunity slip, when five-eighth Will Smith showed excellent vision by kicking behind the line. The ball sat up perfectly for his winger Maika Sivo who scored in the corner. Mitchell Moses converted from the sideline and Parramatta got the perfect start leading 6-0 after just two minutes.
A tackle on Mitchell Moses in the air after his kick on the last from Panthers backrower Frank Winterstein gifted the Eels a penalty in front. Moses obliged and it was 8-0 after as many minutes.
Penrith needed to respond and they did through an unlikely source in big prop Tim Grant. The former NSW bookend crashed over after a no-look pass from dummy half by Sione Katoa fooled the Eels goal line defence and it was 8-6 to the Eels.
Parramatta then gave away a penalty in front of the posts, with lock Manu Ma'u not releasing the tackled player. Cleary took the gift two points on offer and it was 8 all nearing halftime.
The Eels however took the lead back minutes later, when lock Fisher-Harris gave away back to back penalties. Moses took the penalty from in front of the posts, however he slipped with the ball managing to scrape over the crossbar in comical scenes. Despite the slip it was enough to put his side in front at halftime by 10-8.
Penrith got on the scoreboard first in the second half, when Eels hooker Reed Mahoney was penalised right in front of the posts. Cleary then got the visitors back on level terms and a chance to build some confidence.
The confidence increased dramatically, when James Maloney replacement Jerome Luai put in a deft grubber close to the line. The ball took a deflection off Eels rake Mahoney and Cleary dived on the loose ball to score and put his side in front for the first time in the match. His conversion had the Panthers out to a 16-10 lead with less than 20 minutes remaining.
The Panthers then held off several late attacking raids from the Eels, with some desperate defence proving the difference. The win sees the Panthers off the bottom of the ladder for now and the loss for the Eels sees Brad Arthur's side slip out of the Top 8.
Penrith now have to keep the momentum going next week, when they face the Sea Eagles at home next Thursday night. Parramatta meanwhile face the in-form Rabbitohs, who are likely to be missing a few stars to State of Origin selection.