The Penrith Panthers are now within grasp of the JJ Giltinan Shield after they made it 13 wins in a row by overcoming a defiant Parramatta Eels 20-2 to win the Western Derby at Panthers Stadium tonight.
A win next week will see the Panthers secure the Minor Premiership in what has been a memorable and record-breaking season for Ivan Cleary's young side. Star halfback Nathan Cleary was again outstanding for the home side with his kicking game completely exhausting the Eels defensive line in the second half. Fullback Dylan Edwards was also superb, with the unheralded fullback running for over 300m and was a rock in the custodian role for his side.
Penrith came into the match looking to make it a consecutive baker's dozen of victories, while the Eels were looking to make it two wins from two this season, having been the last side to defeat the competition leaders back in Round 5.
The match lived up to the hype as a semi-final dress rehearsal early, with both sides not giving an inch and bringing their A-game. In fact, in the first half the Video Referee was as busy as the on-field referee turning down four tries in the first half an hour of play.
Despite the lack of field possession, Parramatta managed to get on the scoreboard first, when Panthers backrower Viliame Kikau was penalised for a tip tackle on Eels skipper Clint Gutherson. Mitchell Moses took the safe option after the Eels to their credit, had somehow managed to absorb numerous Panthers attacking raids in their own half. Moses then made no mistake with the penalty goal and put his side 2-0 up.
The Eels were a different side from past weeks, with their scrambling defence and desperation on their own line somehow keeping out the Panthers relentless wave of attack time and time again.
However, they finally cracked with seconds remaining in the first half, when Panthers five-eighth Jarome Luai threw a superb ball over the top, which hit his winger Josh Mansour on the chest. Mansour then did amazingly well to leap over to score in the corner for the first try of the match. Nathan Cleary converted and it was 6-2 to the home side at halftime.
The arm wrestle continued after the break and it suited Panthers half Nathan Cleary who began to build pressure with his kicking game. Having been denied in the previous set, Cleary again kicked in the air for his outside men and Liam Martin leapt above the pack to score a great try. Cleary converted and the home side skipped away to a 12-2 lead with just over 20 minutes remaining.
The Eels continued to fight, however their spirit was broken when Nathan Cleary kicked a magnificent 40/20 to give his side a huge chance to ice the game. Jarome Luai then did just that minutes later, when the exciting five-eighth danced off the left foot and managed to push through some exhausted Eels defence to score and finish off the game.
The Panthers now travel to Townsville next Friday, where a win over the Cowboys will secure the Minor Premiership for the club, as they look to push towards Canterbury's record of 17 in a row from 2002.
The Eels now return to Bankwest Stadium where they will face the Broncos also next Friday night.