An age-old rivalry to claim bragging rights in Western Sydney adds another instalment this Saturday when the Panthers and Parramatta Eels battle it out for a spot in the Holden Cup Grand Final.
The Panthers advanced to this weekend’s Preliminary Final by overcoming the disappointment of their loss in the first week of the finals and putting the Broncos to the sword with an impressive 33-12 victory at Suncorp Stadium.
Their opponents booked their spot by shocking runaway minor premiers Cronulla 35-22 at Allianz Stadium to earn a week off to prepare for the Grand Final qualifier.
Coach David Tangata-Toa has received a boost with fleet-footed winger Brian Too regaining fitness to take his place in the side for the first time since Round 19. His inclusion adds to what is an already impressive backline for the Panthers that boasts the likes of Caleb Aekins and Daine Laurie.
Fullback Aekins has been the standout in his position across the competition after amassing over 4,000 running metres (second in the competition) and 141 tackle breaks (third in the competition) to go with his eight tries.
Laurie has also impressed since being handed his debut in Round 22. The winger has an impressive strike rate of seven tries in six games, with his most impressive performance coming against Manly in the final round of the regular season when he scored a hat-trick and ran for 142 metres.
They come up against an Eels side that finished the season fourth on the ladder and upset competition favourites, the Sharks, in a Qualifying Final. Their charge towards the title-decider have largely come off the back of powerhouse winger Greg Lelesiuao.
Lelesiuao has dominated the competition by scoring 19 tries and leads the metre-count (4,260), as well as sitting second for line breaks (29) and tackle breaks (223). That form continued against the Sharks by scoring twice and running for 250 metres.
These two sides met only once this season and produced a highly entertaining clash that went the way of the Panthers 36-32 at ANZ Stadium back in Round 8.
The Panthers twice went ahead by three converted tries but the Eels refused to go down without a fight, clawing their way back to within a try on both occasions, but the Panthers held firm to cling on for a four-point victory.