Premiers Penrith unveiled Generation Next on Saturday night in a hard-fought 22-16 Pre-Season Challenge win over Parramatta.
The Panthers fans who braved the heat at BlueBet Stadium would have loved what they saw from Jesse McLean, Luke Sommerton, Tom Jenkins and Liam Henry in the four-tries-to-three victory.
It was Sommerton who opened the scoring in the ninth minute when he exploded out of dummy half and beat three defenders on his way to the tryline.
The home side doubled their lead in the 21st minute when centre Tom Jenkins intercepted a Josh Hodgson pass and sprinted 95 metres to outpace the cover defence.
The Eels hit back in the 27th minute through centre Zac Cini, who played one NRL game for Wests Tigers in 2021 but is yet to crack first grade with Parramatta after coming to the club last year.
Match: Panthers v Eels
Round 1 -
Venue: BlueBet Stadium, Penrith
Experienced playmaker Jack Cogger came close to extending Penrith's lead with a dart from close range in the 50th minute but he was held up by Wiremu Greig and Jayden Yates.
A deft kick by halfback Jake Arthur forced a line dropout with 23 minutes to play and the Eels cashed in with a try to winger Isaac Lumelume, who showed good speed to cross wide out. Sean Russell's conversion made it 18-10.
Geyer sets up Cohen
The Eels had chances to grab a third try but mistakes by Arthur and Jordan Rankin halted their momentum and the Panthers made them pay when Mavrik Geyer laid on a try for Logan Cohen with a superb around the corner offload.
Refusing to throw in the towel the Eels grabbed a third try through Cini with two minutes to play but that's as close as they would get.
Jenkins intercepts and goes all the way
- Parramatta's star recruit Josh Hodgson played the opening 20 minutes of the match and had some nice touches before he was given a break by Brad Arthur in the oppressive conditions.
- Panthers fullback Isaiah Iongi left the field just before half-time for a HIA. He was ruled a category one concussion and sat out the rest of the game.
- Eels veteran Mitch Rein came off for a HIA in the 24th minute after getting his head in an awkward position trying to make a tackle. He failed the HIA and was unable to return.
Cini with the in and away
- Hooker Luke Sommerton was a standout for the Panthers with a try, 24 tackles and 58 run metres.
- The Eels had 54 per cent of possession to Penrith's 46 per cent in the first half but could manage just the lone try to Zac Cini.
- Fullback Sean Russell brought the ball back strongly with 211 running metres from 20 runs, including 58 post-contact metres.
- Eels forward Matt Doorey was sent for a HIA midway through the second half.
- Makahesi Makatoa and Ryan Matterson added some experience to the Parra pack and showed their young team-mates the way with 26 runs between them for 240 metres.
Lumelume down the sideline
Play of the Game
Panthers young gun Jesse McLean was promoted to the club's top 30 this week and celebrated with a cracking try in the 39th minute to take the home side out to a 18-4 lead at the break. A loose pass by the Eels was swooped on by Sunia Turuva who showed plenty of desperation to get to the ball and kick it ahead for McLean to chase. The 19-year-old showed sizzling pace to get past the Eels defenders and keep the ball on the toe before getting a perfect bounce to cross for the Panthers' third try. McLean finished the night with 157 metres from 15 runs.
McLean too fast for them all
What They Said
“Ivan just told us to keep it simple and it was a good opportunity for us young blokes to play some big minutes in a tough game. The Eels named a pretty good side so it was good to start the season off with a trial so it was good to test the lungs out. We started pre-season in November last year and when you’re training with the likes of Nathan Cleary and Liam Martin, trying to defend their shape, it really makes you a better player. Just because we didn’t name a full side it doesn’t mean it won’t be a Penrith performance.” - Panthers forward Mavrik Geyer
“It was good to blow some cobwebs out and get some footy under our belt, there’s nothing too concerning to worry about just yet. We’ve got another trial next week so just a bit more time to get all the things right come Round 1. The difference in our game this year is probably going to come through our defence, that was one area we identified from the statistics and everything last year. If we get that right and more towards the top one or two teams in the league then that’s where the improvement is going to come for us and that’s where we can hopefully go that one step further.” - Eels captain Shaun Lane
The Panthers will welcome back Nathan Cleary, Jarome Luai and a posse of other premiership heroes as they host Super League champions St Helens in the World Club Challenge.
The Eels travel to Gosford to face the Knights on Friday night in Round 2 of the Pre-Season Challenge.