103 matches [1967-1996; 1998-2021]
44 wins, 58 losses, 1 draw
Much is owed to Parramatta for Penrith’s promotion to the first division, 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 created a local western Sydney derby 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.
In their third meeting, 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 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 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, but the 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. 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 for foul language, 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 preliminary discussions about the two clubs merging to create a new western Sydney club as the NRL was looking at a 14 team competition for the start of 2000. Fortunately for both teams, both met the criteria with their stand alone status confirmed late in 1999.
In 2000, both teams would meet three times – twice in the regular season, with victories to the home team on both occasions, and then renewing 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 leveled 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 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 winder 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 stike 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 perhaps the best finish in the derby history – from a Penrith perspective at least. 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 latched on 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.
Early in the 2012 season, the two teams met at Parramatta Stadium. Penrith held a commanding 23-0 lead at half time, and whilst they allowed in one second half try, made it 39-6 on the stoke of half time when former Eels winger Etu Uaisele crossed over for his hat trick. It completed what was at the time the Panthers biggest ever winning margin in the western derby.
An even bigger win was on the cards a couple of years later at Sportingbet Stadium when the home team were up 30-0 midway through the second half, but still ran out convincing 38-12 victors.
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.
However, since the start of the 2016 season the Panthers have won four of the five matches, with the solitary loss being their one off meeting at ANZ Stadium in 2017.
In 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.
In what was the first of many for the “comeback kids” that was the Panthers in 2018, 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.
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, with the Panthers registering a record breaking 40-6 over an albeit weakened Eels side (and breaking 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.
Whilst not one of the most publicised rivalries, it remains one of the true geographical derbies remaining in the NRL, and with both teams currently in the premiership heavyweight category, more memorable chapters are sure to be written in the future.
Last updated 19 November 2021