Round eighteen threw together two sides vying to finish the regular season at the top of the table in a dress rehearsal of what could be the Grand Final in a few weeks’ time. The Penrith Panthers welcomed the Paramatta Eels to Panthers Stadium for a top of the table showdown as first took on third in the most mouthwatering tie of thwe weekend.
The Panthers had Isaah Yeo in their side in place of Kurt Capewell while Andrew Davy and Will Smith were names in the Eels seventeen in place of Marata Niukore and Reed Mahoney. The Panthers were favourites with the bookies to extend their lead at the top of the table to five points, making them almost uncatchable at the top of the table, an Eels win would throw the minor premiership wide open.
After a frantic and brutal opening half hour during which the Panthers had four efforts ruled out by the bunker. Paramatta were on the defensive for the majority of the time, with only the occasional sortie into their opponent’s half.
Following a penalty for a crusher tackle on Ryan Matterson, followed quickly by another for an offside, the Eels elected to kick the penalty goal and with twenty-nine minutes on the clock the boot of Mitchell Moses put the Eels into a 2-0 lead.
With three seconds remaining on the first half clock a flying Josh Mansour scored a spectacular one-handed try in the left corner to snatch the lead for the Panthers. Nathan Cleary converted brilliantly from the touchline for a 6-2 Panthers lead at the interval.
Fifteen minutes after the restart Liam Martin rose above the Eels defence to take a Cleary high kick and drop to the ground for the four-pointer. The half-back added the conversion for a 12-2 lead, the game drifting away from the Eels.
A Cleary penalty goal with just over two minutes remaining stretched the lead to 14-2as the Panthers kept the Eels tryless.
Jerome Luai put the icing on the Panthers cake with twenty second remaining as he jinked his way through an exhausted Eels defence to score under the sticks. Cleary added the goal to complete a 20-2 win.
It was the highly competitive match between two top sides who battered and bruised one another for our entertainment. The Panthers had the ball in hand for longer than the Eels and spent more time in their half, deserving the win which puts the Eels close to sealing the minor premiership as they go five points clear at the top. The Eels are, however, now looking nervously over their shoulder at the chasing pack.
Penrith Panthers: Edwards, Mansour (T), Naden, Crichton, To’o, Luai (T), Cleary (4G), Tamou, Koroisau, Fisher-Harris, Kikau, Martin (T), Yeo. Subs: May, Leniu, Leota, Tetevano.
Paramatta Eels: Gutherson, Sivo, Jennings, Blake, Ferguson, Field, Moses (G), Campbell-Gillard, Stone, Paulo, Lane, Matterson, Brown. Subs: Davey, Evans, Kaufusi, Smith.
Referee: Gerard Sutton.
Ground: Panthers Stadium, Penrith.