An improved second-half performance wasn’t enough as the Panthers slumped to an 18-12 loss against Parramatta Eels at ANZ Stadium.

Anthony Griffin handed a late call-up to Corey Harawira Naera, as well as bringing Peta Hiku in to the starting side in place of Tyrone Peachey. Bryce Cartwright started the game in the halves with Te Maire Martin a late withdrawal as a result of a neck injury.

A nervy start from the visitors allowed the kick-off to go out over the goal line and invite the Eels to put on some early pressure on the Panthers line. A repeat set led to a Brad Takairangi grubber that wasn’t cleaned up by Cartwright, allowing Corey Norman to score the opening try after three minutes. Clint Gutherson added the extras to give the Eels a 6-0 lead.

Another repeat set to the Eels led to a penalty right in front of the uprights, allowing Gutherson a shot at goal, which he would convert as the Eels pushed out to an 8-0 lead after 15 minutes.

A fortunate escape for the Eels from inside their own in-goal area and back-to-back penalties piggy-backed the home side up the field at the midway point of the half. It almost led to their second try when Michael Jennings crossed over but he was denied by the Bunker after ruling a knock on earlier in the play.

They weren’t to be denied on the stroke of half-time as Semi Radradra rose above Dallin Watene-Zelezniak to collect a pin-point kick from Norman. Gutherson’s sideline conversion sailed wide as the hosts went in to the break leading 12-0.

HALF TIME: Parramatta Eels 12 – 0 Penrith Panthers

The second half started just like the first with the Eels crossing over after three minutes. Gutherson sliced through the defence and measured an inch-perfect grubber that sat up kindly for Norman to get his second. Gutherson’s kick raised the flags to make it 18-0.

The Panthers weren’t going to go down without a fight and finally found a way over the line through Peta Hiku in the 55th minute. The ball spread left and fell in to the hands of the winger who used every bit of the sideline to dive over in the corner. Cleary nailed the conversion from the sideline to bring it back to 18-6.

Harawira-Naera broke through the Eels line to give the Panthers another chance for points but was quickly shut down by some scrambling defence with the line in sight. Cartwright had an opportunity on the next play to find Waqa Blake in space but the Eels defence forced the ball free as he shaped to offload.

Harawira-Naera got a deserved try with three minutes left on the clock after some quick hands opened the Eels defence up and allowed the backrower to stroll over untouched. Cleary’s conversion brought the Panthers back to within a converted try and gave them a slim chance of a miraculous comeback.

However it proved to be too little too late as the Eels held on for an 18-12 victory.

FULL TIME: Parramatta Eels 18 – 12 Penrith Panthers