HEAD TO HEAD | Parramatta Eels

NRL 2021, Penrith Panthers v Parramatta Eels, semi-final, match report | NRL .com

107 matches [1967-1996; 1998-2022]

46 wins, 60 losses, 1 draw

Stats: themightypanthers.com/results_headtohead_parramatta.htm

Parramatta had been admitted into the Sydney premiership in 1947, alongside Manly. Shortly after, Penrith entered a team into their junior league and soon became a powerhouse within their A Grade competition.

Come 1966, Penrith had been a participant in the recently established second division, and were looking at becoming one of two teams to be admitted to an expanded 12 team premiership in 1967.

Much is owed to Parramatta for Penrith’s admission to the premiership, albeit in the power of self-interest. It made a successful push to the NSW Rugby League in 1966 for the Panthers to be promoted ahead of the preferred Wentworthville bid, whom Parramatta feared would cut a slice into their junior league if they were promoted.

The admission of Penrith into the Sydney premiership automatically created a new western Sydney rivalry between the two clubs, given that Penrith is a 30 kilometre drive up the Great Western Highway from Parramatta.

Their first meeting was during the 1967 pre-season competition, with the Panthers winning a tight 6-5 match at Cumberland Oval in the group stage.

On 28 May 1967, the two teams met in their first premiership encounter – Penrith could only kick a solitary penalty goal in the second half as Parramatta recorded a comfortable 25-2 victory at Cumberland Oval.

Penrith would register their first win in 1968 at Penrith Park. The Panthers led 12-5 at half time at Penrith Park, and then led 14-12 fifteen minutes into the second half. The remaining 25 minutes was played at a frenetic pace, but both teams were not able to add to the scoreboard, with Penrith holding on for a thrilling win.

The Panthers would register four straight victories over their neighbours from 1969 to 1971. The first of those three were tight affairs, with the winning margin being by three points or less. However, the fourth straight win was a lot more convincing. Penrith led 8-2 at half time in their first round match at Penrith Park, before stretching it out further to a 24-2 lead late in the second half, with the visitors scoring two late tries to lose 24-12.

In the 1970s, the construction of the Western Freeway (now the M4) bought Penrith closer to Parramatta with regards to travelling times. However, during that decade the two teams were drifting further apart in their premiership fortunes. The Eels were starting to emerge as a premiership heavyweight whilst the Panthers were perennial cellar dwellars.

This was reflected in their head to head ledger – it was increasingly growing in Parramatta’s favour, aided by a remarkable run that began in 1975 in which Parramatta were undefeated for 18 straight matches against Penrith. This was punctuated by a 19-all draw at Penrith Park in 1980, which was forced by the Panthers after scoring a late converted try. However this draw was bookended by a 10 match losing streak in the lead up to that match, with 7 more straight losses to be inflicted afterwards.

Finally, in 1984 the Panthers put nine years of misery to an end, and at an unlikely venue too. Parramatta was playing home matches at Belmore Sports Ground, whilst Cumberland Oval was being rebuilt. The visitors held a 10-2 half time lead, and whilst the Eels threatened to steal victory in the second half, the Panthers fought out a hard earned and well deserved 22-10 victory. It was Penrith’s win number 9 in what was the 35th match of the western derby – Parramatta had won 25 of them.
Later in the season, the Eels paid a visit to Penrith Park. The Panthers needed to win to qualify for their first ever finals series. In front of a then record and expectant crowd, the Eels left with a 22-10 win and in its wake many broken Panther hearts.

In 1985, Penrith finally become semi finalists, courtesy of a hard fought mid week play off for fifth win at the Sydney Cricket Ground. A matter of days later, on Saturday 7 September 1985, Penrith returned to the same venue, with their opponents being the Eels. On a historic day for the chocolate soldiers, the more experienced Eels outfit held a commanding 22-0 half time lead, and whilst the Panthers were able to at least get on to the scoreboard late in the second half, were to leave the SCG licking their wounds after a 38-6 hiding.

Parramatta would continue to have the better of Penrith for the remainder of the decade, with the Panthers winning only 3 of the 8 matches to the end of 1989. One of these wins was a 16-12 win at Penrith Park in 1986, made more remarkable that the Panthers were only playing with 12 on the field after forward Paul Akkary was sent off only after 8 minutes, and had led 16-0 before holding off a fast finishing Eels in the last 20 minutes.

The 1990s started with another Parramatta victory, in the opening round of the 1990 season. But Penrith would soon start redressing, in part, the lop sided ledger by winning the next 7 of 10, with the seventh of these victories being a 24-16 victory at a water logged Penrith Stadium in the final round of the 1996 season. The Panthers over ran the Eels in the second half by coming back from a 16-6 half time deficit.

However, earlier in that season, Penrith had forfeited the Round 1 match against Parramatta, as an act of solidarity with the fellow Super League clubs, thus handing their rivals the premiership points without a ball being kicked. However, with the Super League competition running in 1997, it saw a cessation in hostilities as the Eels were playing in the ARL competition being run at the same time.

With re-unification occurring in 1998 to form the NRL, they met in the opening round with Parramatta comfortably winning 27-16 at Parramatta Stadium.

Both 1999 encounters were memorable for different reasons – firstly at Penrith Park on Easter Sunday, the Panthers shut out the Eels with a 13-0 shutout – all the points were scored by centre Ryan Girdler. Later in the season, at Parramatta Stadium, was perhaps the most spiteful of all the western derbies. With the Panthers clinging on to a 16-10 lead in the second half, two Penrith players were sin binned, with Parramatta using the 2 man advantage to equalise, and then squeeze ahead to record a 17-16 victory.

As a side note, 1999 could have spelt the end of this rivalry, with an agreement drafted which would see the two clubs merging to create a new western Sydney super club as the NRL was looking at a 14 team competition for the start of 2000. Parramatta had signed the agreement and were willing to give up their colours and have the club named the Parramatta Panthers. However, the Panthers board at the time voted 5-4 against the agreement, and hence Penrith chose to fight on alone. As it turned out, both teams made the final cut and would be participants in the 2000 NRL premiership.

In 2000, both teams would meet three times – twice in the regular season, with victories to the home team on both occasions. They then renewed their hostilities again the arena of semi final football, meeting in week 2 at the Sydney Football Stadium. Penrith led 10-2 in the first half, but Parramatta fought back to have it levelled at 10-all at half time, and then scored three more tries to none in the second half to record a convincing 28-10 victory.

2001 and 2002 were a dark period for Penrith in this rivalry. It started with a 40-4 loss at Stadium Australia as the first match in an opening round double header in mid-February. The opening round of 2002 would get worse, with a 64-6 loss at Parramatta Stadium. At the time it was the club’s second ever heaviest defeat.

Quite remarkably, it would be the closing round of 2003 before the two teams met again. By then, a lot had changed in fortune. Penrith had transformed throughout the 2003 season into the arguably the form team of the competition, needing a win to secure the minor premiership. Parramatta needed a victory to qualify for the finals. The Eels raced out to a 10-0 lead, but the Panthers calmly regrouped, and as soon as Penrith took the lead, they would never headed, running seven tries past the Eels, including a hat trick to fullback Rhys Wesser, and recording a 40-22 victory. Securing the club’s second minor premiership was the reward for the victory, but surely it also erased some of the pain for the previous 2 seasons – and maybe for that final round loss at the same venue 19 years earlier for the older Penrith fans.

From 2004 to 2009, Penrith and Parramatta met 11 times, with the ledger being relatively even at 6 wins and 5 losses. Two of these wins stand out.

The 44-18 win at Parramatta Stadium in 2006 saw Penrith turn it on in the second half, scoring 30 unanswered points – all whilst halfback Craig Gower was in hospital, after being stretchered with a sternum injury halfway through the first half.

The match at CUA Stadium in 2009 was a 13 try thriller that saw the lead change 7 times, with a try to debutant winger Junior Tia Kilifi with only three minutes left securing the 38-34 win for the Panthers.

The fifth decade of the Battle of the West (as it would be coined for marketing purposes) started in front of a still record crowd of 22,582 at CUA Stadium. The Panthers raced out to a 22-0 lead in just as many minutes, however, the Eels would then score 30 unanswered points of their own to lead 30-22. The Panthers would strike back to make it 30-28 before the Eels scored late to secure an embarrassing loss for the home team.

However, Penrith would win 5 of the next 7 matches to the end of the 2014 season.

The CUA Stadium encounter in 2011 saw an epic finish. The Panthers were trailing by 6 right on the stroke of full time. A rather fortunate penalty to the home team gave them one tackle to conjure something. The Panthers swung the ball from the eastern sideline to the western sideline, and then back again, whilst losing going backwards about 20 metres before centre Michael Jennings broke the line and stabbed a kick through to the in goal which was grounded by fullback Lachlan Coote. It was then converted by Travis Burns to force the match into golden point. The usual field goal shoot out ensued, with the Eels missing two chances, but a David Simmons line break late in the second period of golden point allowed Penrith prime field position, with Luke Walsh calmly potting over the one pointer, and the Panthers recording a remarkable come from behind 23-22 victory.

2012 was a rather forgettable season for both teams, with Parramatta finishing last and Penrith second last. The Panthers recorded a 39-6 win early in the season at Parramatta Stadium, with former Eels winger Etu Uaisele crossing for a hat trick. It completed what was at the time the Panthers biggest ever winning margin in the western derby. Later in the season, the Eels turned the tables from the corresponding win the previous year, this time being victors in golden point.

Penrith threatened to break that record with both matches at Penrith in 2013 and 2014, but still won 44-12 and 38-12 respectively. The second of the Parramatta wins in this period was early in the 2014 season at Pirtek Stadium.

The Eels won both encounters in 2015 – winning by 6 on both occasions, including a rather dour 10-4 loss for the Panthers – in Darwin of all places.

From 2016 to 2018, the Panthers won four of the five matches, with the solitary loss being their one off meeting at ANZ Stadium in 2017.

In yet another memorable finish for Penrith fans, the visitors were trailing 18-16 late in the second half in their Pirtek Stadium clash in 2016, with a Jamie Soward cross field kick with seconds remaining was taken by Waqa Blake who then offloaded to Bryce Cartwright who dummied close to the line to cross over. An anxious wait with the NRL bunker soon confirmed the try, and with it a heart stopping 20-18 victory. Later in the season at Pepper Stadium, the Panthers fought back from a 14-0 deficit to score three quick tries and then hold on for a thoroughly entertaining 22-18 win.

The Panthers in 2018 were the ‘comeback kids’, and this all started in the opening round versus Parramatta. Penrith fought back from a 14-0 deficit late in the first half to Parramatta in the opening round at Panthers Stadium. Only a matter of weeks later, the Panthers held out a committed Eels outfit to record a tight 12-6 victory at ANZ Stadium.

The two teams met in the opening round of the 2019 season, with the Eels reversing the corresponding 2018 fixture with a 20-12 victory at Panthers Stadium, but a few weeks later the Panthers inflicted the Eels first ever loss at their new home of Bankwest Stadium, with a hard fought 16-10 win. It was a much needed win for the then bottom placed Panthers, and sparked a mid-season run of wins.

In 2020, the Eels came back from 10-0 in the second half with a three try burst to sink the Panthers at Bankwest Stadium – in the wash up, it would remarkably be the only loss inflicted on Penrith during the COVID-19 enforced shortened season. Later in the season, the two teams met for the 100th time in premiership football, with the Panthers defensively too good for the Eels with a 20-2 win.

In 2021, their 101st meeting was amidst the early days of the Sydney COVID outbreak, and in front of an empty BlueBet Stadium, the Panthers had pushed ahead 19-18 late in yet another brutal chapter of the derby – a penalty to the Eels on the stroke of full time gave them an opportunity to steal victory at the death, but the penalty conversion sailed wide. They would meet again in the final premiership round on the Gold Coast (after the whole competition had been relocated to Queensland as a response to the COVID outbreak), with the Panthers registering a record breaking 40-6 over an albeit weakened Eels side. This also broke the mark set in 2012 for the biggest win over Parramatta.

Both teams would meet for a third and final time in 2021 – both teams qualified for the finals, and would meet for a third time in finals football in the semi final in the unfamiliar surrounds of Mackay in central Queensland. The paths travelled by both teams had been different – second placed Penrith had lost their qualifying final, but afforded another opportunity due to finishing in the top 4 whilst sixth placed Parramatta had won their elimination final.

Both teams posted a converted try in the first half, however a late penalty conversion gave Penrith a vital 8-6 lead at the break. It ultimately proved the difference in what ended up being a scoreless second half. The Eels had a number of chances of gaining the lead in the second half, but poor handling and desperate defence kept them out. It was Penrith’s first win over Parramatta in finals football, and also historically was the first time the Panthers had won a week 2 semi final in the top 8 era, in their seventh attempt.

In 2022, Parramatta were one of the few teams that were seen as a genuine threat to the defending premiers – they recorded a big win in a trial match, and then backed it up just over two months later when they recorded a 22-20 win at BlueBet Stadium – and ending a 21 match winning streak that stretched all the way back to 2019. Later in the season, the Eels once again were victors, with a big win at CommBank Stadium – the Eels were already well ahead on the scoreboard when Nathan Cleary was sent off in the first half for a dangerous tackle, but held their defensive resolve in the second half, where they actually outscored Parramatta.

They would meet for a fourth time in week 1 of the finals at BlueBet Stadium, with the minor premiers hosting the fourth placed Parramatta. The Eels would hold a one point lead early in the second half, but the Panthers put three unanswered tries past them to record a commanding 27-8 win.

Both teams would win their respective preliminary finals two weeks later to set up the biggest match to date in their rivalry – meeting each other in the 2022 NRL Grand Final. In what was one of the most anticipated grand finals in recent memory, the contest itself was an anti-climax – the Panthers led 18-0 at half time, and 26-0 halfway through the second half before conceding two late tries but still winning 28-12 to record their fourth premiership.

—-

Not surprisingly, their close proximity to each other has seen an almost natural flow of players between the two clubs. As of 2022, a total of 88 Penrith players have also represented Parramatta. 36 of these first played at Penrith, with two of those players returning to Penrith after a stint at Parramatta.

Notable players who have represented both clubs:

– Ron Workman
– Ron Lynch
– Glenn West
– Bob O’Reilly
– Gary Pethybridge
– Matt Goodwin
– Paul Clarke
– Paul Dunn
– Andrew Leeds
– Matt Adamson
– Phil Adamson
– Gary Freeman
– Joe Galuvao
– Paul Whatuira
– Frank Pritchard
– Michael Gordon
– Michael Jennings
– Kevin Kingston
– Timana Tahu
– Bryce Cartwright
– Reagan Campbell-Gillard
– Waqa Blake

Last updated 14 December 2022

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