A horror opening ten minutes cost the Penrith Panthers dearly as they succumbed 26-20 to the Parramatta Eels in the Battle of the West at Pepper Stadium on Friday night.
The Eels jumped out of the blocks and raced away to a 12-0 lead before Penrith knew what hit them – and the Panthers' woes were further compounded by the loss of star fullback Matt Moylan to an ankle injury.
The first try of the night came as the ball switched hands between Chris Sandow, Corey Norman and Will Hopoate before Ryan Morgan crashed over in the corner to score.
The surging attack continued from the blue and gold, with a flurry of staggered passes splitting the defence. Reece Robinson bested the Panthers defence to score after a thirty metre dash to the line.
Play was disrupted during the following set of six as Matt Moylan, in his 50th NRL appearance, was assisted from the field. The star fullback had his leg caught in a tackle and early reports suggested a medial ligament problem in his right ankle.
Hardened with new resolve after the loss of their fullback, and with Dallin Watene-Zelezniak filling in admirably, the Panthers looked sure to score moments later. However Waqa Blake spilled the ball within inches of the line.
Despite staunch defence from the Panthers in the sets that followed, the Eels extended their lead with a penalty goal after Chris Sandow was taken out chasing a kick towards the in-goal.
Despite the scoreline, the Panthers pressed on but couldn't find their rhythm against the physical Parramatta defence.
HALF TIME – 14-0 EELS
The second half breathed new life into the Panthers and a flurry of passes, instigated by Peter Wallace and Jamie Soward, saw Isaah Yeo tumbling over the line in the 50th minute.
However Soward was taken out by a late hit from Parramatta's Pauli Pauli as he threw the vital pass, which saw the Eel placed on report, and the Panther leave the field for treatment.
With Moylan and Soward sidelined, Bryce Cartwright was forced to take the conversion attempt and his effort missed the target by some distance.
Two minutes later and the comeback was well and truly on as Cartwright backed himself, found a gap and slipped a magnificent pass to veteran winger David Simmons, who crashed over for the try.
This time it was Wallace who attempted the conversion and missed the target, leaving the score 14-8.
In his first game back from injury, Wallace showed his class as he then put Cartwright into space beyond the grasp of NSW representative Hopoate and over for the Panthers' third try on the trot.
The excitement hit fever pitch at Pepper Stadium as Wallace's conversion levelled the score at 14-all and Soward returned to the field.
However the Eels' hulking winger Radradra was soon to spoil the party with a quickfire double.
First he slid onto a deft grubber from Takairangi, before sealing the result with a typical charge to score from close-range.
The Panthers threw the ball around in the final minutes, and even gave themselves a sniff with a 69th minute try to Watene-Zelezniak, but couldn't find a way to bridge the gap again.
Brave in defeat, Penrith now look ahead to hosting Melbourne Storm at Pepper Stadium next Saturday.