Panthers v Eels: Double boost for Penrith; Opacic returns

Penrith and Parramatta clash at BlueBet Stadium for the annual Battle of the West with the defending premiers looking to make it 22 straight at the venue and nine wins to start the year.

In their way is an Eels side who were pummelled by the Cowboys in Darwin last week but have shown in western Sydney derbies in the past that these two sides put up a fight with every game played.

The Panthers knocked the Eels out of the finals last year, adding fuel for the blue and gold, who haven't beaten the 2021 champions since 2020, while Brad Arthur's side will be looking to get back into the top four after slipping to fifth. 

Ivan Cleary's side have become truly formidable at home in recent years, having not lost at Penrith since July 2019 — a winning streak that could extent to 22 games if they make it five straight wins against the Eels.

The Rundown
Team news

Panthers: A double boost for the defending premiers with coach Ivan Cleary confirming that Brian To'o (ankle) and Moses Leota (shoulder) are right to go. To'o will likely replace Charlie Staines, who is tipped to play fullback in NSW Cup, while Leota's inclusion would see him return to the run-on side alongside James Fisher-Harris. The pair remain in the reserves for the time being. 

Eels: No late changes expected for the Eels. Tom Opacic (neck) returns to the backline in some much-needed relief for side and their injury woes. Dylan Brown returns to his usual five-eighth role with Jakob Arthur shifting to the reserves. 

Key match-up
Nathan Cleary v Mitchell Moses: Cleary lines up against Moses for the 10th time in NRL history on Friday night with the Clive Churchill medal winner holding a 6-3 record overall. Cleary has been instrumental for the premiers in recent weeks after making his return from a shoulder injury. Moses hit a road block against the Cowboys in Darwin but will be looking to get one over Cleary as the pair look towards State of Origin in just over a month. Moses is the incumbent NSW halfback but Cleary's record at the state level speaks for itself.

 

Stat attack
Both side's have the best completion rates in the league at 81% each and an even 54% possession rate on average per game, ensuring Friday night's clash will be a spectacle of strong ball control and movement on both edges. While the Panthers are yet to be beaten, the Eels have struggled to win when they're not as clinical in both areas.

 

Story first published on NRL.com

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NRL.com