How Parramatta can stop the Panthers’ streak


A Friday night trip to Panthers Stadium is just about the toughest mission in rugby league right now.

Penrith is on a 21-game unbeaten streak at the foot of the mountains, dating back to their loss to the Canberra Raiders in July 2019, and in 2022 he may have looked more impregnable than ever.

Here in the roar tactical towers, we have knocked down a few strongholds in our time. This is the fourth iteration of our “How X Can Beat X” column and, believe it or not, we’re three out of three rocking so far.

We brought the Broncos home in the first round against the Rabbits, then turned it around by putting the Rabbits on the Roosters in the third round. We even got the Tigers to victory, manifesting the abundance in Michael Maguire’s life in Round 7 as they beat the Rabbitohs.

Now we face the final boss, Penrith in Penrith. Parramatta are the hobbits seeking to storm the gates of Mordor.

After suffering a serious Top End loss last week at the hands of the Cowboys, there’s not much to like about the Eels.

Their injury count has come down slightly – they actually have a full complement of outside-backs in outside-back roles, which helps – and Brad Arthur will no doubt have inserted a rocket into his side’s Jacksie following last week’s performance.

Whenever we do these tactical overviews, it’s worth mentioning the prerequisites. Yes, you have to compete in the middle. Yes, we must limit errors. Yes, you shouldn’t have a man kicked out after eight minutes (thanks, Karl).

Lucky for Parra, then, because on those fronts they rank well. The Panthers and Eels are first and second in the NRL in run counts and completion rates and second and third in errors. You could easily support Parramatta to compete in these key areas. Here are three more where they can have a real impact.

(Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

Make Penrith play Parra’s game

These two have a story. The closest a team has gotten to beating the Panthers at Penrith in their streak was indeed Parramatta in that game last season, when they were a penalty goal shy of winning but lost 13-12 .

In last year’s final too, they came close: Parramatta lost 8-6 with troops falling all around them. The common denominator between the two was that Arthur managed to make the match go on his team’s terms.

The Eels concede the most line breaks in the competition and the Panthers the least, while creating much the same on offense. Parramatta needs to make it a crushing, low-scoring game and force Penrith to work for every point.

In Mitchell Moses, they can boast an exceptional long and short kicker and lead the league in offensive kicks and forced retirements.

Notably, in the last two meetings of these teams, the Eels have enjoyed great success thanks to attempted kicks that have shaken Dylan Edwards, usually the most assured defensive back in the NRL.

In the 8-6 game, they forced four retirements, five set recoveries and had far more possession and court position, despite far fewer offloads and conceding far more penalties.

What this shows is that the conservative, crushing style has clearly worked as recently as last September, at least negating the Panthers’ progress.

If the Eels adopt the mentality that this game will be very weak, they can use Moses’ kicks to manipulate the game situation to their ends and attempt to slowly encroach on the field and prevent the Panthers’ attack from shoot.

Long kick. Kick to touch. Force abandonments. It is the base from which they can build upwards. If the Eels can make the Battle of the West a real battle, they have a chance.

Empower Paulo and Brown while countering Yeo

This match will see the NRL’s two main attacking philosophies go head-to-head, and whoever imposes their attacking style more easily will likely create more chances with the ball in hand.

Penrith operates with a clear middle serve plan, in which ball game lock, Isaah Yeo, is an active playmaker and both halves, Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai, are able to play wider.

Parra, on the other hand, uses his pack in a very different way. Junior Paulo passes more than any other NRL prop, and Nathan Brown plays a similar role in the 13 shirt, engaging the line and swinging the ball.

Instead of swinging both sides of the ruck like Yeo does – designed to create a wider extra man – Paulo and Brown engage closer to the ruck and create space farther. It’s no coincidence that Shaun Lane and Isaiah Papali’I are among the top edge forwards in the NRL for line breaks.

It is crucial that Parramatta implements his style and has the confidence to implement it. It’s two-fold: first, it creates the best chance of them making line breaks in central areas; and two, it forces Cleary and Luai, who are defending in those lanes, to make a lot more tackles than they otherwise would like.

With a bench that includes two front rowers and two back rowers, Parra can be sure they can sustain that tactic through the 80s and really wear down the Panthers.

Defensively, they can also make Penrith’s life much more difficult. The Panthers worked on two key areas in their offense, aided by Yeo’s playmaking role.

There’s the long shift that’s allowed by the 13 taking on a primary receiver role, and there’s the gap between inside and outside defenders, which often sees Liam Martin, Viliame Kikau – and later in the game , Scott Sorensen and Spencer Leniu – break through. .

The Gold Coast managed to cancel Yeo last week, forcing him to pass along the line rather than engage him directly, which in turn undid much of what the Panthers tried to do in offensive. In the end, Penrith found another way to win – via Cleary’s kick – but it showed a plan to stop the Panthers’ plan A.

Strike early – then keep swingin’

It’s pretty easy to say teams should just score early on against the Panthers, and that’s a whole other thing to do. Penrith has played nearly 650 minutes of football this year and hung out for less than 20 of them.

No team has managed to ask enough questions early on and change the narrative – but Parramatta may be the first. Last year, that was the plan that South Sydney – the last team to beat the Panthers – managed to pull off very effectively in their first game in the final.

The Bunnies took three penalty goals that kept the score tilted in their direction, one at 0-0, another at 6-6 and another 14-10. Moses should take notes.

By keeping the scoreboard running in their direction, the Souths created a despair that Penrith rarely faces and were rewarded with a Panthers error count that was 40% worse than their average.

Penrith have the second-lowest error rate in the NRL as they are a very patient attacking side who back each other up to score full-game points, even late.

It helps in this regard that few teams ever create a situation where the Panthers have to dump him and force the play: if Parramatta can pressure early, they can ask a question that Penrith rarely asks.

Then they have to keep the pressure on. That’s where the bench comes in. By picking four forwards, the Eels can push the envelope early and then try to establish a rhythm that forces the Panthers to stick with them for as long as possible.

It will be fine for some of the Panthers, but Izack Tago, Taylan May, Soni Luke and Jaeman Salmon are younger and have less experience than their Eels counterparts. They’ve never faced this in first grade before.

The youngest man on Parra’s bench, Oregon Kaufusi, has 50 freshman games and the least experienced, Makahesi Makatoa, is 29 and played tough football for years in the UK. This is a clear advantage zone for the eels.

They are one of the few teams that can play in the middle from the start and then replace their first rower with equally tough and tough players. The talent levels may not be on par with the young Panthers, but in terms of experience, they trump it.

Parramatta can take young Penrith players into deep water. That doesn’t mean they won’t swim, of course, but that will be a new question for them. Arthur can hope the answers don’t come.




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