The Dyldam Parramatta Eels have been run down 22-18 by a tenacious Penrith Panthers side on Sunday afternoon at Pepper Stadium, in a match that saw the Eels lose centre Michael Jennings to a hamstring injury and the Panthers put on three tries in just 12 minutes in a monster comeback.
The Blue and Gold were on the back foot early, when just the third tackle of the match saw Danny Wicks involved in a high hit that forced him from the field for a head injury assessment.
Two minutes in his replacement in the front row, Daniel Alvaro, was pulled down just short of the tryline from a Jeff Robson pass, putting the Eels in prime attacking position. Robson sent the ball left on the next play, through the hands of fullback Michael Gordon to winger Bureta Faraimo to come around the outside and open he scoring for the Blue and Gold.
Michael Jennings for Parramatta close again 7 minutes in, and the Eels continued to apply pressure on the back of Penrith penalties and French’s kicking game.
Gutherson stepped in in the 13th minute with a kick through for winger Bevan French to speed past the defensive line and score his first try of the day. Gordon struggled with the boot, giving the Eels a lead of 8-0 early in the game.
Gutherson went himself in the 16th minute as Jennings poked his nose through the line and offloaded to his five-eighth to score next to the posts.
While prop Tim Mannah was forced from the field for a head injury assessment following a head clash, the Panthers found some momentum and some decent field position. Hooker Peter Wallace popped a pass from dummy half for prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard to steam across the line and post first points for the home side.
Faraimo was denied a second try for obstruction, but French added another easily as he leapt to retrieve a Jeff Robson cross-field kick and score in the corner.
With just one conversion for Gordon, the visitors headed back to the sheds with an 18-6 lead.
The Eels came out for the second half with a reshuffled back line to account for Origin centre Michael Jennings being forced from the field with a hamstring strain, as Beau Scott moved into the centres alongside Bevan French on the right edge.
The Panthers found their rhythm easily after the break, with centre Tyrone Peachey running onto a short ball in the 43rd minute and charging over to score.
Bryce Cartwright followed, throwing a dummy before diving over in the 48th minute to bring the Panthers within two points of the Eels, trailing 18-16.
Winger Josh Mansour made it three tries in 12 minutes for the men from the foot of the mountain, crossing out wide in the 54th minute to put the Panthers in front 20-18. Nathan Cleary’s third conversion from four attempts gave the Panthers a 22-18 lead as the Eels struggled to regroup.
With 20 minutes of play remaining, both sides couldn’t grab their opportunities, with the ball finding touch, hitting the ground, being knocked on, but not finding the tryline.
Panthers hooker Peter Wallace put in a try-saving tackle on Clint Gutherson to undo the Eels’ best chance at levelling the scores, and Bevan French unlucky not to score his third try of the night with a knock on just short of the tryline.
As the clock ran down, both sides stood firm, but couldn't cross the tryline, and the Panthers took home a 22-18 win from a massive second-half effort.
Penrith Panthers - 22 (Campbell-Gillard, Peachey, Cartwright, Mansour. Cleary: 3/4)
Dyldam Parramatta Eels - 18 (Faraimo, French 2, Gutherson. Gordon: 1/4)