Round 5: Eels v Panthers preview
Western Sydney rivals Parramatta and Penrith meet in contrasting circumstances on Sunday afternoon
Parramatta fans will be hoping that Sunday afternoon's instalment of the Battle of the West will help lift their side to their first win of the season. Despite sprinting out to an early 14-0 lead against Penrith in their Round 1 meeting, the Eels eventually fell 24-14 and have never recovered. They failed to trouble the scoreboard the following week as they were crushed 54-0 by Manly and losses to Cronulla and Wests followed. Parramatta are struggling with the fundamentals at the moment, ranking 14th in the competition for completion rates and fifth for most conceded penalties. Their lack of power up front has also been a point of concern and is particularly worrying this weekend as they come up against a Penrith pack that dominated the highly rated North Queensland big men in the game last Thursday night.
While the Eels are languishing at the bottom of the ladder after four rounds, the Panthers are sitting pretty in third position off the back of a 3-1 record. The most impressive victory was last week's 33-14 defeat of the Cowboys. Without regular halfback Nathan Cleary, new recruit James Maloney took control of the game. Maloney managed a try, two try-assists and a whopping 501 kicking metres but it was his defence that would have been most pleasing. The former Shark could not have achieved what he did on Thursday night, however, without the platform laid by his men up front and in particular James Fisher-Harris. ‘The Fish' was lethal against the Cowboys with his aggression in defence being the most notable aspect of his performance. A similar outing from JFH will spell immediate concern for the underperforming Parramatta pack.
Penrith powered home to score 24 unanswered points and defeat Parramatta 24-14 in the Round 1 match between these two sides at Panthers Stadium.
Who to watch: Parramatta desperately need some grunt up front this weekend and that is where starting prop Daniel Alvaro comes in. Alvaro has enjoyed greater responsibility in 2018 and will need to lead from the front on Sunday afternoon in order to give halves Corey Norman and Mitchell Moses enough space to contribute in attack. Alvaro was solid against Penrith in Round 1 earlier this year, running for 136 metres and breaking two tackles. However, the Panthers' forward pack has improved dramatically since then and therefore the likes of Alvaro will need to stand up even more.
For the away side, 13-game rookie Viliame Kikau has already proven himself to be one of the most devastating edge forwards in the competition this year. Kikau terrorised the Eels in their Round 1 meeting, managing one try, one line break, eight tackle busts and 95 running metres from just 36 minutes. If Kikau achieved that much against Parramatta in such a short frame of time it will be interesting to see how he goes when he likely plays the full eighty minutes on Sunday afternoon.
My tip: The Eels are due eventually but are simply impossible to back given their recent form and energy. In contrast, Penrith would have taken great confidence from last week's result and have a far superior forward pack to their rivals. Only complacency will deny Anthony Griffin's men this weekend. Panthers by 16.