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7:55pm Fri May 6, 2022
Round 9 - BlueBet Stadium, Penrith - Crowd: 21548

Round 9: Panthers v Eels preview

Eels looking to regain electric form against undefeated Panthers

The Penrith Panthers will be looking to continue their undefeated run at BlueBet Stadium, taking on the Parramatta Eels in the match of the round on Friday night. Parramatta was the closest to defeating Penrith at BlueBet in their last regular-season clash before the competition moved to its Queensland hub.

Penrith comes into this Round 9 clash following a scrappy 18-4 victory over a tenacious Gold Coast Titans outfit last Friday night. Ivan Cleary would be disappointed with his side's lack of execution against the Titans last weekend, completing at a poor rate and missing a whopping 50 tackles. Against a Parramatta side desperate to avenge last week's poor showing, Penrith will need to be at their best if they want to continue their undefeated run.

The positive of last week though was they showed that even when they're having an off day, they can still compete and get the job done in danger games, where other top teams have struggled like Cronulla, the Roosters - and Friday's opponents, the Eels. Nathan Cleary dominated proceedings with a dominant kicking game and kept a calm head to get Penrith home. Another impressive player was backrower, Liam Martin. Martin is in a purple patch of form which sees him primed for another NSW berth. Brian To'o and Moses Leota are named in the reserves and are outside chances of returning on Friday night.

Parramatta on the other end would like to forget the trip to Darwin as quickly as they could. They were disappointing going down 35-4 to a renewed Cowboys outfit. What would be of major concern, was the implosion of their right edge defence in the final five minutes - Parramatta conceded 16 points in that short time. However, the Eels has shown that they can match it with the big clubs - they took down Melbourne in Melbourne earlier in the season following a loss, and if the pieces align expect them to give Penrith a run for their money.

Jakob Arthur continued to struggle in the number six jersey - Parramatta had multiple sets on the Cowboys line including 41 tackles inside the opposition 20 which amounted to a solitary try. With that in mind, it's easy to conclude that Arthur's decision making isn't at the level that Dylan Brown's is. Brown can come up with a quick decision on the spot that allows Parramatta to ask questions of the opposition's defensive line. Parramatta's forwards will need to match the intensity of Penrith's pack through the opening stages. If they can go set for set with Penrith and not let the scoreboard blow out quickly which Penrith have a unique ability to do, the Eels are well and truly in this game. Dylan Brown returns to five-eighth with Tom Opacic returning to the centres. Arthur is in the reserves, and Sean Russell is also named in the reserves and is an outside chance to return following a serious rib injury.

Last meeting: Finals Week 2 2021 - Panthers 8 Eels 6

Who to watch: This might be a touch controversial but I believe Jarome Luai hasn't quite found his groove so far in 2022. There's no doubting Luai's talent and ability, but in a Penrith squad which has improved considerably since last season, Luai is yet to fully reach the potential which saw him earn an Origin call up. Luai's running game is quite lateral and sidewards but when he fires, there's no better 5/8 in NSW. This shapes up to be the statement game that solidifies Luai's origin spot.

Reed Mahoney is the heart and soul of Parramatta's attack and defence. Out of dummy half, Mahoney is an elite talent who will be sorely missed when he departs for the greater pastures of Belmore next season. But his impact could decide this contest. Parramatta fans ad nauseum were saying that if Mahoney played last season's semi-final, the Eels defeat the Panthers. Well, this is the chance to put that theory to the test.

The favourite: Penrith unsurprisingly comes into this clash as the favourite. In the NRL era, these rivals met on 45 occasions with Penrith winning 24 of the clashes. At BlueBet Stadium, Parramatta has a horrific record winning only 38% of encounters since 1998.

My tip: Penrith has enough strike power to get over an Eels side which continues to have injuries in their backline which will hinder their ability to come out of yardage. Parramatta showed that they could match it with Penrith in last season's finals thriller. I just don't see enough to get Parramatta home and with Penrith's fortress home record, the decision is made a little easier, but they will give Penrith their toughest home test this season. Penrith by 6.