Eels v Panthers preview

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Parramatta Eels v Penrith Panthers Thursday 8:00pm at CommBank Stadium, Parramatta / Burramattagal

Grand Final Re-Match sees Eels look for an electric edge

The first grand final re-match and Battle of the West sees two sides come into this Round 4 opener in contrasting fortunes.

Parramatta have lost every match by four points so far and could easily be undefeated if it weren't for their unique ability to get in their own way. The Eels have been ok but unspectacular to start 2023 with those narrow losses, but what would be of major concern is the 64 points they've leaked in the last fortnight. For a side that was so resilient at times last season, the cracks need to be tidied up sooner rather than later as they come up against the premiers.

There hasn't been a more spoken about defensive edge than Parramatta's right. The combination of Waqa Blake and Bailey Simonsson gets one last chance to prove themselves, if it goes pear-shaped then they're gone. Elsewhere in this side, Parramatta need to get their interchange balance right. Playing Paulo and RCG for the minutes they are at the moment is unsustainable in the long run, coach Brad Arthur needs to trust his bench forwards to carry the load.

Against Penrith, their task of avoiding an 0-4 start to the season is a big challenge. Penrith brutally exposed the Eels back 3 last year with Nathan Cleary's kicking game giving Blake and Simonsson nightmares to this day. However, they need to match the forward intensity from the outset. If Hopgood, Cartwright and Matterson can't give RCG and Paulo the support they need, then it's set to be a big night for Penrith's middle.

As eluded to before. Ryan Matterson returns from suspension taking the immediate place of Matt Doorey who moves to the bench after being cleared of a knee injury. Jirah Momoisea has been demoted with former Penrith junior Brendan Hands set to make his first grade debut on the interchange bench.

Penrith on the other hand have had a 1-1 start to 2023 enjoying an early bye week. The Panthers were spending the week in Kiama for an in season camp. Over the first fortnight, the Panthers have been clunky and it's with good reason. You simply do not replace Api Koroisau and Viliame Kikau overnight, it's been a trying two weeks as Ivan Cleary tries to find the balance in the Mitch Kenny/Soni Luke era.

As a result, their attack has looked clunky with Cleary and Luai struggling to adapt to the new hooker. The camp away would've worked wonders for the spine to build that combination and fresh off this inconsistent start to the season, Parramatta has to be worried heading into this Thursday night blockbuster. You'll see a different Penrith side to what we saw in the opening fortnight, a side that looks more confident in their attacking shapes and combinations on both sides of the footy.

On the team front for the Panthers it's business as usual with only one change. Scott Sorensen returns for Matt Eisenhuth. One thing to note, Zac Hosking has played NSW Cup on the left edge (where Luke Garner is playing), so it is something to monitor in the coming weeks should Garner's form not pick up.

Last meeting: Grand Final 2022 - Panthers 28 Eels 12

Who to watch: Coming from the other side of the west, Parramatta lock forward J'maine Hopgood certainly had little expectations after playing his trade in the NSW Cup for the majority of the last two seasons. However, since coming into grade. Hopgood has been immense averaging 140 running metres and making 134 tackles across his three maiden starting matches in the blue and gold. There have been some moments under fatigue which shows that he is raw at the NRL level, but that will come with time (if Brad Arthur uses him right). 

One of the game's biggest improvers last year was Dylan Edwards. Now in the upper echelon of fullbacks in our game, Edwards has proven the doubters wrong and has had a strong start to 2023. Edwards has averaged 220 running metres across his first two matches and is a critical part of Penrith's attack. He has also had 16 tackle breaks showing his unique ability as one of the game's best runners of the football. Look for Edwards to continue his strong start to 2023 with a big game against the arch-rivals.  

The favourite: To the shock of no-one, Penrith are overwhelming favourites for this rematch. However, at CommBank last year, Parramatta were the victors 34-10 with Nathan Cleary sent off. 

My tip: It's hard to ignore Penrith in this one. I see the bye week making a big impact on Penrith and their combinations which will bring out the best in Cleary and Luai on their respective edges. Parramatta will continue to try, but I think their edge defence on the right against Penrith's lethal left edge is raising major red flags for me. Penrith by 10. 

1. Clinton Gutherson 2. Maika Sivo 3. Viliami Penisini 4. Waqa Blake 5. Bailey Simonsson 6. Dylan Brown 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 9. Josh Hodgson 10. Junior Paulo 11. Bryce Cartwright 12. Ryan Matterson 13. J'maine Hopgood 14. Matt Doorey 15. Brendan Hands 16. Wiremu Greig 17. Makahesi Makatoa 18. Jakob Arthur

1. Dylan Edwards 2. Sunia Turuva 3. Izack Tago 4. Stephen Crichton 5. Brian To'o 6. Jarome Luai 7. Nathan Cleary 8. Moses Leota 9. Mitch Kenny 10. James Fisher-Harris 11. Luke Garner 19. Zac Hosking 13. Isaah Yeo 14. Soni Luke 15. Scott Sorensen 16. Spencer Leniu 17. Jaeman Salmon 18. Matt Eisenhuth

Referees: Ashley Klein; Sideline Officials: Liam Kennedy, Dave Munro; Video Referees: Adam Gee;

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