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The Roar


Izack Attack: Tago celebrates new contract with stunning showing but Panthers sweat on Fisher-Harris

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15th March, 2024

Penrith are on the board for 2024 with a 26-18 win over rivals Parramatta, thanks in no small part to a barnstorming performance from Izack Tago.

The recently extended centre made a ridiculous five line breaks, scoring once himself, and terrorised a Eels right edge that had been forced to readjust after Bailey Simonsson left with a head knock early in the first half.

Beyond him, it was the usual guard: Nathan Cleary, Dylan Edwards and, especially, Isaah Yeo, who set up a try for Sunia Turuva with a superb kick. It was just his second in the NRL, and both have led to scores.

This was a coaching masterclass from Ivan Cleary, who clearly instructed his side to shift early to tire the big Parra pack out and to target a perceived weakness in edge defence. It worked a charm.

“We’re stoked to have him stay onboard,” said Ivan Cleary of Tago.

“At such a young age he’s already done a lot, so his best football is still a long way in front of him. We got a little bonus with Simonsson going off early and there was some opportunities down that edge.

“He looked dangerous all night. I don’t think he’s ever run that far in his life, he looked tired by the end of it – he played well.”

Cleary himself will have concerns, however. James Fisher-Harris left the game early and will go for scans on his shoulder, while Jarome Luai was put on report twice: once fora trip on Mitchell Moses and once for the hit that left Simonsson dazed.


Though the Eels actually went to the sheds at half time in front, it was very much against the run of play. They were superb before the break, make no mistake, and took every chance that came their way, but Penrith had spurned several presentable opportunities of their own and would have been upset not to lead.

The second stanza followed the same pattern but with far more efficiency from the hosts. Once they found their killer instinct, it was only ever going to end one way.

Brad Arthur confirmed that Simonsson could not remember the incident that saw him leave with a HIA and that Kelma Tuilagi had suffered a suspected dislocated shoulder while inflicting a huge hit on Liam Martin.

“I was proud of them tonight, more so than last week in the win against the Dogs,” said the coach.

“I thought we were extremely tough. We had a few things go against us, but I don’t think we did a lot wrong as a footy team. We were pretty good, they were very good.”


You’ve been Tago-ed

The Panthers had a plan to attack the right edge of the Parra defence, which was exacerbated by Simonsson’s departure with a concussion, and central to that was Izack Tago.

The centre signed a new deal this week and immediately began paying it off with a bustling, rampaging performance that delivered him a ridiculous amount of metres – even by Panthers outside back standards – as well as five line breaks, one of which turned into a try that ultimately sealed the game.

It might well have been more, too. More than once he did all the hard work before failing to deliver the finished product.

Tago showed all his speed to get around the defence, but also his nous to pick moments and brawn to turn half breaks into clear chances.

Morgan Harper, who is not as bad a defender as people think, was targeted relentlessly when forced to move to the wing and failed to come up with the answers. Then again, few would have.


Inside him, Liam Martin played as tough as ever and showed his own skills in getting the ball where it needed to be for Tago to show his best, and outside, Turuva was his usual ball of energy, offering supports and getting rewards with two tries.

Penrith always come with a plan, but often, they have found Parramatta kryptonite. This time around, it was the Panthers who brought a style that the Eels couldn’t match.

In the middle, Parra were excellent, but out wide, they remain a work in progress. Ivan Cleary knew that and went wide early to move the big men laterally and find favourable match-ups.

Though the Eels were able to find their joy, the patience of the Panthers ultimately paid off.

Lussick might be the answer

Hooker was a circle that Parra never squared last year. In Reed Mahoney, they had a dummy half who was excellent off the deck, made his tackles, got in people’s faces and knew when to get out of the way.

Josh Hodgson was never going to be that type of player and when injury ended his career early, Brendan Hands got his chance before Joey Lussick joined from St Helens.


The latter two were set to compete for the jersey this year, and it’s clear that it is now the former Sea Eagle’s to lose.

Lussick learned from the best in England, shadowing the great James Roby, and has now brought that back to the NRL.

The craft is there, but crucially in this Parra side, so is the intensity.

Lussick brings the best of Mahoney’s style, uncomplicated and willing to get the ball out of the ruck and into the hands of the forwards. Moreover, he’s always around the footy, perfect for a side that lives on offloads.

It was an inspired piece of scouting to find a player like Lussick, who plays tough and follows the ruck around, staying involved at all times. If he can keep it up for 80 minutes, he can really contribute to Arthur’s style.

The forwards were really rolling at times tonight, and proved that they have the type of game that Penrith struggle with, but the backs were nowhere near it.


Sean Russell looked terrified under the high ball and the rejigged edge after Simonsson’s departure was never going to threaten. Will Penisini was shut down.

Dylan Brown was excellent creatively, but it was all moving back towards the middle. Once Penrith shortened the defensive line – usually impossible against Parra, who play very wide – they shut down the Eels.