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Parramatta Eels v Penrith Panthers: NRL Thursday night forecast

Can the Eels get the better of the Panthers? (Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)
Expert
22nd May, 2019
5
1438 Reads

The Eels play host to the spiralling Penrith at their new Bankwest Stadium as NRL Round 11 gets underway.

It’s an important game for Parramatta in the scheme of their finals desires. They currently sit eighth on ten competition points, two behind the top four but also two ahead of a cluster of four teams.

Lose this week, they’ll drop as low as 12th and any early season momentum will be shot.

The visitors are two wins from ten games, stuck at the foot of the table and in possession of the league’s lamest attack (127 points scored) and worst defence (240 points conceded). They’re losing games by an average of 14.5 points and are coming off six straight losses.

Penrith are also missing representative five-eighth James Maloney through suspension and New Zealand international captain Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, who set to leave the club after asking for a release.

Panthers sad

Penrith’s Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Young tyro Jarome Luai comes into the halves for Maloney. Luai is a great talent who can give Panthers fans some sunlight amidst all the gloom.

Last week Penrith were routed 10-30 by New Zealand on their home turf, while Parramatta put in a quite lacklustre effort in a 10-17 loss to the Cowboys in Townsville.

These clubs are five wins each in their last ten meetings, the most recent in Round 1 this year when the Eels came away from Panthers Stadium with a 20-12 result.

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The 2019 season has been nothing less than an abject disaster for the mountain men and prodigal coach Ivan Cleary. From off-field drama among the playing group to predictable play that opponents have dominated, absolutely nothing has gone right for a team many thought would be challenging for a top-four place.

Having said all that, they’re still a pretty solid squad and they’ve got second-row power runner Viliame Kikau, one of the best players in the game.

Ivan Cleary is under a phenomenal amount of pressure. He’s been getting smashed by fans and the media from the instant he agreed to return to the Panthers from Wests Tigers, and Penrith’s deplorable first half of the year is just making him a bigger target.

Ivan Cleary

Panthers coach Ivan Cleary (Mark Evans/Getty Images)

We do tend to forget that these folks are human when we all pile on, but the only thing that will stop it, fairly or not, are better performances.

Parramatta are hardly setting the world on fire either, with some serious defensive problems. They’ve run up some huge scores on the way to a 5-5 record, but their for and against is still feeling the after-effects of the 54-point Magic Round loss to Melbourne.

They also miss an awful lot of tackles, averaging 35 whiffs per game. Penrith’s anaemic attack will get the chance to score points; it’s up to Luai and Cleary to make sure they don’t miss these opportunities.

Parramatta are undefeated in their two games at Bankwest Stadium and they’ve had crowds totalling almost 55,000. Obviously this game is on a Thursday, so it’ll be interesting to see if folks make the effort on a school night to bring a hometown atmosphere.

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The Eels have points in them and they’ll be odds-on to make the most of Penrith’s average 40 missed tackles per game. Halfback Mitchell Moses (nine) and fullback Clint Gutherson (seven) are in the NRL’s top seven for try assists, and they’ll be involving their finishers out wide, Maika Sivo (seven tries) and George Jennings (six tries in eight games).

The job is ahead of Junior Paulo and Tim Mannah as they front up to Penrith’s representative front row of James Tamou and Reagan Campbell-Gillard. The Panther props may be out of form, but they have undeniable quality. Parramatta ease into this contest at their own peril.

Prediction
Both of these teams miss a huge amount of tackles. This could end up a pretty high-scoring contest.

For all their problems, the Panthers have a proven ability to squeak out a close win. They’ve done it with regularity over the last few years and their two wins this year are a golden point comeback against Wests Tigers and a two-point result hanging on for dear life in Newcastle.

Parramatta are on a five-day turnaround after travelling to North Queensland last week. Will the effects of the short break and travel have an impact at the back end of this one?

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It might, but it won’t matter. Eels win.

Teams

Eels
1. Clint Gutherson, 2. Maika Sivo, 3. Josh Hoffman, 4. Blake Ferguson, 5. George Jennings, 6. Will Smith, 7. Mitchell Moses, 8. Junior Paulo, 9. Reed Mahoney, 10. Tim Mannah, 11. Shaun Lane, 12. Marata Niukore, 13. Manu Ma’u
Interchange/reserves: 14. Peni Terepo, 15. Daniel Alvaro, 16. Brad Takairangi, 17. David Gower, 18. Jaeman Salmon, 19. Bevan French, 20. Kane Evans, 21. Oregon Kaufusi

Panthers
1. Dylan Edwards, 2. Josh Mansour, 3. Dean Whare, 4. Waqa Blake, 5. Brian Too, 6. Jarome Luai, 7. Nathan Cleary, 8. James Tamou, 9. Sione Katoa, 10. Reagan Campbell-Gillard, 11. Viliame Kikau, 12. Frank Winterstein, 13. James Fisher-Harris
Interchange/reserves: 14. Liam Martin, 15. Tyrell Fuimaono, 16. Tim Grant, 17. Moses Leota, 18. Mitchell Kenny, 19. Hame Sele, 20. Kaide Ellis, 21. Caleb Aekins

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