One of the most impressive winning runs in NRL history has come to an end.
Penrith, impenetrable at home for nearly three calendar years and undefeated in the NRL in 2022, were stunned by a Parramatta side who fought fire with fire in the forwards, and did enough with ball in hand to come away with a 20-18 victory.
It was a game worthy of finals football – a bumper crowd of 21,548 watched on in what was at times a brutal territorial battle, at times slick in execution, and downright desperate when it mattered.
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Level at the break and with neither side ever ahead by double digits, this tense affair more than lived up to the hype as a sold out Penrith Stadium brought an imposing atmosphere – but were left stunned at full time.
With the ease in which Penrith can roll up the field and score points, nobody thought the contest was over, even when Parramatta had an eight-point lead with five minutes left, until Nathan Cleary’s last-ditch field goal attempt fell well short of the crossbar before trickling dead.
The game couldn’t have started much worse for Parramatta – they lost their challenge within a few minutes of kick-off after a Hayze Perham error was reviewed, and things didn’t get much better for the winger as he was steamrolled by Dylan Edwards for the opener shortly after.
A lot of teams have wilted at the first sign of adversity against the Panthers – but not Parramatta, not tonight.
Some quick thinking from Will Penisini put his captain Clint Gutherson over, before a penalty try – and a pretty clear cut one at that – had the Eels in front.
Penrith were back on even terms right on the bell after a brilliant grubber from Viliame Kikau to winger Taylan May, but it was the build up that was the talking point at the break.
In the lead up to that scoring play, Kikau looked to cleanly lose possession before the loose ball was scooped up by Penrith, with play allowed to continue.
Refereeing mistake or not, Kikau had one of his best games as a Panther, setting up May again with a tap on after the break, while opposing backrower Isaiah Papali’i was just as much of an influence on the outcome.
Neither man will be with their current club next year, and tonight would no doubt have had both Bulldogs and Tigers fans salivating.
Penrith looked to be arm wrestling their way to another close win against a title contender, before two minutes of madness flipped the game on its head.
Ryan Matterson shot through a gap and stepped Dylan Edwards to score, before a forgettable passage from the Panthers No.1 was punctuated when he allowed a bomb to bounce off the kick-off, Dylan Brown cleaning up the scraps and streaking away to the line .
Spencer Leniu went over to score with two minutes left on the clock, and the Panthers rolled down the field off the kick-off before the ball was thrown to their halfback about 43 meters out, and down by two.
He had plenty of the time, and has so often been the man for the big moments – but on this occasion, the strike was scuffed.
There could not have been a better response from the Eels after last week’s thrashing at the hands of the Cowboys, while we may well get another Panthers classic next week when they play the Storm at Magic Round.
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