The Penrith Panthers are running riot across the NRL, currently boasting a 12-game winning streak.
They sit pretty in first on the ladder, have the second-best attack in terms of points scored and the second-best defence in terms of points conceded.
Their success can be contributed to being a fundamentally sound team. They complete on average 83 per cent of their sets and generally have 55 per cent possession in every game, which is the best in the NRL. Penrith also make the fewest errors and are above average conceding penalties and missing tackles. All of these certainly help.
They are on track to secure the minor premiership, which they last did in 2003. Penrith fans definitely know what else happened that year.
So far in 2020 they have had a near-flawless season. The only major blemish was their Round 5 loss to their upcoming opponents Parramatta Eels. Penrith were in control the majority of that match-up until literally ten minutes of quality from Parramatta was enough to give the Panthers their only loss of this season.
“They’re in the top four, they’re definitely a side we want to beat, they’re the only side that’s beaten us this year, so it does add a lot of fire to the belly,” Penrith winger Josh Mansour said.
There are great match-ups to monitor throughout the game. For starters, the battle of the forward packs should be entertaining. The Panthers and the Eels are first and second respectively for total run metres. James Fisher-Harris and Reagan Campbell-Gillard are the driving force for their teams at the front.
When you add in for Penrith James Tamou, Viliame Kikau and Isaah Yeo up against Junior Paulo, Ryan Matterson and Nathan Brown for Parramatta, you know it’s going to be an explosive match-up. It will be a tough grind to see which big men can get over the advantage line to give their playmakers better attacking opportunities.
One head-to-head match-up on everyone’s mind will be Nathan Cleary against Mitchell Moses. Head to head Cleary has been performing much better and is definitely one of the top halfbacks in the game. When comparing both players, Cleary has forced more drop-outs, dominates Moses in try assists and line break assists and averages 24 extra running metres per game. He is a lot more engaged with the Panthers offence and a lot more aggressive with both his running and kicking game.
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An unsung hero for Penrith has been Cleary’s partner in crime, Jarome Luai. It’s unfortunate that we won’t get to see Dylan Brown battle Luai due to injury, but the Penrith five-eighth has been one of the better halves in the competition. While Cleary does most of the kicking, Luai leads the team with 15 try assists and 12 line break assists, which places him top five in both categories. He is a great complement to Cleary, and Parramatta will certainly have their hands full trying to contain both halves.
It will also be intriguing to see now that Blake Ferguson finally scored his first try against the Warriors and whether he will play with more freedom. He will match up with Josh Mansour, who is one of the top wingers in the NRL right now.
The X factors will be the workhorses at the back, Clint Gutherson against Dylan Edwards. Edwards has been hit with injury and has so far made only nine appearances this season. However, he’s also been another weapon for Penrith, averaging over six tackle breaks a game and leads the competition averaging 80 metres on kick returns.
Meanwhile, Gutherson has been the model of consistency all season who does everything for the Eels. He hustles on kick returns, makes metres to get Parramatta out of their danger zone and runs in support when a break is made. In addition, he’s been great with his passing leading the team with 13 try assists.
A lot has changed since both teams met in Round 5. Penrith has been on a roll while Parramatta have been clawing away with their wins. While Penrith has been 12-0, Parramatta have won eight games, with six of those wins coming within ten points or less.
“We haven’t been playing our best footy but you know NRL games are tough to win. Two points is still two points for us,” Parramatta prop Junior Paulo mentioned in their training media session.
The Panthers will be looking to make a statement and avenge their only loss in Round 5. Not only will this be a Western Sydney derby filled with emotion, we could also be looking at a finals preview as well.