An impressive defensive performance from the Parramatta Eels was wasted when the Penrith Panthers scored seconds before the halftime buzzer of their highly-anticipated clash.
The Panthers dominated possession in the first half of the western Sydney derby, relentlessly attacking the opposition try-line.
Four close calls were sent to the Bunker in the opening 21 minutes, yet Penrith were seemingly unable to get on the scoreboard — along with a cluster of unforced errors and fumbles, Parramatta’s defence proved very effective.
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SBS News sports presenter Robert Grasso tweeted: “This is an incredible 1st half defensive performance so far from the Parramatta Eels tonight heading into the finals. Especially after that capitulation vs Souths. Proving a lot of doubters wrong.”
After a long stint defending from their try-line, the Eels were eventually granted an opportunity to take the lead in the 24th minute.
Parramatta playmaker Mitchell Moses spotted a potential overlap on the right wing, and passed the ball towards teammate Clinton Gutherson.
However, the unsuspecting fullback did not anticipate receiving the footy, which bounced off his torso onto the turf.
Clinton Gutherson of the Parramatta Eels.Source:Getty Images
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The local Penrith crowd jeered with delight as Cronulla Sharks premiership player Michael Ennis blasted the Eels.
“Gutherson wanted nothing to do with it … look at this, he’s not even looking,” Ennis said on Fox League.
“They gifted away a great opportunity.”
Former Melbourne Storm star Cooper Cronk elaborated: “Miscommunication, that is not a good sign for Parramatta.
“They’ve been under all sorts of pressure defensively, and during their first chance, their best players turn over the football.”
To rub salt into the wounds, Panthers winger Josh Mansour dived over just before the halftime buzzer to put the home side ahead on the scoreboard.
As players retreated into the sheds, Penrith halfback Nathan Cleary slotted the conversion to seal a 6-2 lead.
The Panthers secured 62 per cent of the possession in the first half, and almost doubled Parramatta’s run metres tally.
"That was soft, very soft!"
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During the interval, Penrith legend Greg Alexander told Fox League: “When you have a look at the stats, if you didn’t know the score, you would think Penrith were in front by at least three tries.”
A leaping effort from Panthers forward Liam Martin extended his club’s advantage in the 55th minute. The 23-year-old collected Cleary’s precise kick at full stretch, landing over the try-line to secure Penrith’s second of the evening.
Sports reporter Chloe-Amanda Bailey bluntly tweeted: “Liam Martin is a grouse footy player.”
Liam Martin flies high 😱
And how goood was that!!!#NRLPanthersEels#TelstraPremiership pic.twitter.com/yPqngTLAIe
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