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SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 20: Trent Merrin of the Panthers looks on during the NRL Trial match between the Penrith Panthers and the Parramatta Eels at Pepper Stadium on February 20, 2016 in Sydney, Australia.  (Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

Crucial handling errors cost the Panthers as they slipped to 22-8 defeat against the Eels at Pepper Stadium on Saturday.

It's dubbed the battle of the west, but the only thing Penrith battled with was holding onto the ball in greasy conditions.

WATCH - Trent Merrin reflects on his Panthers debut:

The rain may have cleared in time for kick-off, but the slippery conditions remained with both sides turning the ball over in their first sets of six.

Parramatta gained the early ascendency after receiving a pair of penalties inside the Panthers half and it led to the first try of the match with Nathan Peats able to put Tepai Moeroa in under the posts after just four minutes. Former Panther Michael Gordon made sure of the conversion to make it 6-0.

It looked like the hyped-return of Michael Jennings would go into overdrive as the new Eels-centre took a pass from Kieran Foran in the 9th minute and loomed towards the Panthers line, but he couldn’t hold on to the ball.

The Panthers made their way back into the match when a cross-field sweep led to a spectacular diving-try from Josh Mansour. It brought the Panthers back to trail by two points at 6-4.

The Eels were given a penalty in the 17th minute after Tim Mannah went down in a tackle, but the extra set made no difference with Beau Scott dropping the ball shortly after.  

Waqa Blake broke through the Eels defence following the scrum, and the Panthers pressed on with Jamie Soward rolling a kick into the in-goal for Leilani Latu to dive on the ball. It was the first call to the NRL video referee bunker for the night, and the red-light soon came up on the Pepper Stadium big-screen with Latu ruled offside.

Bryce Cartwright took a run down the right-hand side in the 24th minute and his kick was chased down by a determined Waqa Blake; who managed to grab hold of the ball, stretch his body back around, and plant it down just before being wrapped over the dead-ball line. Soward was unable to convert but the Panthers had the lead at 8-6.

The rain returned for the last ten minutes of the first half and both sides struggled to make any traction until Corey Norman threw a cut-out pass to none-other than Michael Jennings who slipped through for a try. Michael Gordon converted and had the Eels back in front after 35 minutes.

Half Time: Panthers 8 Eels 12

The rain continued to trickle over the ground in the second half and the errors were aplenty. Two penalties to the Eels inside the returning ten minutes gave them a chance to post the first points.

They took it as Corey Norman again worked the Panthers defensive line, passing to Clint Gutherson for an easy try in the corner. Gordon couldn’t make it another two, leaving the Eels leading 16-8.

Parramatta looked to have struck again in the 61st minute, but Clint Gutherson had the ball popped loose as he reached for the tryline.

The Panthers looked to be tiring at the three-quarter mark of the game but kept the majority of their best 17 on the field, despite the Eels moving their playmakers – Foran and Norman – to the bench.

Handling errors continued to stifle any momentum for the Panthers, as they struggled to get out of their own half for the rest of the match.

A driving run from Junior Paulo made sure of the result as the Eels propelled themselves to victory with the big prop scoring under the posts in the 77th minute. Gordon placed the kick with ease to give the Eels a comfortable 22-8 win.

Fulltime: Panthers 8 Eels 22

Acknowledgement of Country

Penrith Panthers players and staff respect and honour the traditional custodians of the land and pay our respects to their elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.