The fairytale ending we’d all been hoping for on Kevin Kingston’s 100th game in Panthers colours was sadly not to be tonight, as the mountain men fell to a strong and dominant Eels outfit at Pirtek Stadium.
In front of a big and very vocal home crowd, Parramatta walked all over the Penrith boys and came away with a 32-16 win.
The day didn’t start well when we got confirmation that Peter Wallace was sitting the match out, still struggling with the groin problem that sidelined him last week. But fans were buoyed by the news that big Sika Manu would be returning from injury to play his first game of the year.
As the match played out, it would become very clear that there was a distinct difference between these two teams tonight. Parramatta was committed to scoring tries and putting points on the board, while Penrith seemed content to play catch up and let the home side take control.
We got off to a nervous start and were nowhere near as confident as they have been in previous weeks. Our defence was not up to scratch, we were missing tackles and couldn’t keep possession, and the Eels were taking full advantage. We did come close to scoring first about 10 minutes in thanks to a great kick from Jamie Soward that went over everyone’s heads towards Kevin Naiqama on the wing, but it was a little long and went out.
It ended up being the home side that put points on the board first in spectacular fashion, after a misguided pass from Matt Moylan found the hands of Wilie Tonga, who took off up the field and sprinted 90m to score unopposed. Chris Sandow took the kick and was successful, so the Eels took a 6-0 lead, 16 minutes into the match.
But Penrith was quick to fire back with a try of their own and it was late call up Isaac John who went over for the points. After several attempts at our line Matt Moylan sent a beautiful ball into some space and John ran onto it and straight through the Eels defenders to score next to the posts. Moylan converted and levelled the score 6-6, with 18 minutes until half time.
A few minutes later the Panthers copped a penalty which led to Parramatta’s next try. After running the ball up to their 10m line, Nathan Peets took a beautiful ball through the centre and barged his way over to score, dragging several Penrith defenders with him. Sandow’s conversion was on target and the home side once again took the lead 12-6.
Penrith was struggling to keep up with an energetic and classy Eels outfit and they almost let them get away with another try with 7 minutes on the clock, when a huge bomb went up in the middle of the field and Parra picked it up, juggling the ball through almost every player before Will Hopoate found some space on the wing and crossed the line. But the call went to the video ref who found Hopoate was offside when the kick went up, so it was disallowed.
Panthers answered back with a close call of their own, when Isaac John streaked through a hole and over the line, but the pass was called forward. We almost had another one when Adam Docker walked his way over several defenders and over the line but he was held up.
But our persistence paid off in the next play, when the ball found Lewis Brown 2 metres out from our line, and he dived over the top of an Eels defender to get the ball down. As the half time siren sounded, Matt Moylan missed the conversion, so the home side took a 2 point lead into the break.
HALF TIME: 12-10 Parramatta
The second half started much better for the Panthers with a try to Dean Whare in the first 3 minutes. After coming agonisingly close to the line on the left side, we sent the ball right across the other side of the field to where Whare was waiting, and he side stepped a couple of defenders to run the ball over. Moylan was on target with the kick this time, and for the first time in the game the Panthers had taken the lead 16-12.
But the celebrations were short lived when the Eels went over again a few minutes later. Manu Ma’u got the ball and burrowed his way through our defenders to get the ball down just over the line. The kick from in front put Parramatta back in the lead 18-16, with just over 30 minutes remaining.
They backed that up with another one 7 minutes later, when the ball found winger Semi Radradra on the 10m line, and he beat Dave Simmons to the line to score. The kick missed so the Eels extended their lead to 22-16.
With 15 minutes on the clock, Kevin Naiqama came close to scoring in the corner for the Panthers but about 1m from the line his foot slipped over the sideline and he was called out.
In reply to that close call, Parramatta scored again in their next set of six. After getting the ball to their 10m line, Captain Jarryd Hayne barged his way over the line carrying a pack of Panthers defenders who just couldn’t keep him out. Sandow converted and the home side extended their lead to 28-16 with 10 minutes on the clock.
They added insult to injury with 5 minutes remaining, when some quick passes found winger Ken Sio, who had been promoted from NSW Cup this week, and he ran around our wingers and went over to score in the corner. The sideline conversion missed and the score went to 32-16.
For the remaining few minutes, Parramatta dominated and the Panthers did well to hold them out, and had to watch the game slip away from them.
FULL TIME: 32-16