The Penrith Panthers laid on a batch of impressive tries early as they embarrassed the Eels 22-16 in front of a small crowd at Parramatta Stadium today. The solid win for Penrith gets them back into the Top 8 and with some of the deep attacking moves they showed today; their is plenty of promise for the rest of the year.
Youngsters Coote and Graham didn’t look out of place on the big stage and look to be strong assets even at their young ages.
The Panthers put on 4 tries for the win in front of another low crowd of just 14,012 for the clash of the west, the Panthers now leap frogging the Eels on the table and rocketing into the Top 8.
It was Penrith’s 1st victory in 4 weeks after a run of losses, two of them by 2 points or less, and a heart stopping 12-all tie against the Broncos the week prior.
Panthers captain Petero Civoniceva led the way with a workhorse showing for the Panthers just 4 days after inspiring Queensland to a third State of Origin series win. When ever the Panthers lost their way, Petero was thrown into the mix to steady the ship. A constant handful, Civoniceva remains in top form – his charges always attracting multiple defenders and yielding big metres each time.
His presence remains a huge piece of the Panthers puzzle. While Luke Lewis has been good without being great at halfback, if the Panthers could secure a genuine 6 and 7 their stakes would rise significantly. They have a strong forward pack that chews threw the metres and offers good offloads and athletic ability, they have sharp outside backs – however at times centre field they did look a touch unorganised. It seems Jarrod Sammut must have really fallen out of favour with coach Matt Elliott as he can’t get a look in at present. Sammut seemed a real answer at no 7 for Penrith.
Rookies Lachlan Coote, Wade Graham and Masada Iosefa were genuine threats all day. Hooker Iosefa justified his coaches decision to start with him at no. 9, the Eels were on the back foot whenever Iosefa looked to scurry with the ball in hand.
Young Coote was exrtemely impressive at fullback and nailed 3 of 4 conversion attempts, the rookie custodian earning comparisons to Brad Fittler and Greg Alexander from the Channel 9 commentary team. Masada barged across for a brilliant solo try in the 30th minute and five-eighth Graham provided superb direction and set up their first two tries with boot and hand.
Lewis scored the Panthers opening try in the ninth minute and then made the pivotal linebreak in the second half to put Frank Pritchard across in the 58th minute which gave Penrith a match-winning 22-12 lead.
Rhys Wesser was the Panthers other tryscorer while the Eels had solo tries either side of halftime to replacement hooker Matthew Keating and five-eighth Feleti Mateo that gave Parramatta a sniff of snatching victory by reducing the deficit to 16-12 with 25 minutes to play.
But as has been the case for much of 2008, the Eels failed to kick on because of a mixture of poor handling and decision making despite a whopping 12-4 penalty count in their favour. The Eels again didn’t look interested in the game at hand, consistent 1 out hit-ups were the order of the day and the locals were easy pickings for the Panthers defence. When emotions ran a bit higher after a try or in the final minutes, the Eels showed what they could do when they wanted to. More risky play was employed and when the ball was thrown around they really tested the Penrith defence. Too little too late for the Eels really, Michael Hagan must make some tough decisions this week after more below par performances from some of his troops.
Winger Taulima Tautai had a chance to pull the Eels back within a try but was tackled into the corner post before he could ground it in the corner in the 68th minute, the winger getting over legitimately in the 77th minute after a slick Eels backline movement. Tautai was the Eels best, the young winger has had the odd problem with holding on the ball at times this year – with some basic dropped ball while carting it up, or losing it from a high ball. However TT showed his front on strength and went close to grabbing a double today, while Hayne returned to the Eels side the flyer had little impact and coach Hagan may consider trying to find big Tony Williams back into the side somewhere next week.
The Panthers are at home to the out of sorts Knights next week and surely must fancy their chances, while the Eels have a tough away assignment against the fast finishing South Sydney Rabbitohs in Round 18 of the NRL 2008 season.