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Eels hold off fast-finishing Panthers in thriller

Parramatta have rained over Ivan Cleary's homecoming parade at Penrith, a Michael Jennings double securing their first away win in 570 days and sweet revenge for last year's round-one capitulation.

The 2018 wooden spooners got off the mark with a nail-biting but thoroughly deserved 20-12 triumph over their western Sydney rivals, Jennings sporting grey hair that aged with every dramatic turn of the contest.

His two tries at his old Penrith stomping ground came either side of a game-turning sin-binning.

But even with the customary Panthers comeback – the only silver lining to a soggy start of the Cleary Mach II era – the Eels emerged with their first win on the road since round 25, 2017.

And as was the case in last year's thrilling round-one encounter, not until Parramatta had reached a prophetic 14-0 lead did the Panthers stir from their slumber.

For 50-odd minutes Penrith's helpful handling errors ensured the game was played at one end only, Mitchell Moses the brightest spark in an enterprising Eels attack that paid no mind to the sodden conditions.

First-half tries to Marata Niukore and Jennings offset the loss of Nathan Brown with a biceps injury that had him in all sorts.

Penrith had no consolation for the suspected broken arm suffered by Hame Sele.

But with Reed Mahoney adding another try after the break, Penrith found themselves staring down the same daunting deficit they ran down almost a year ago to the day.

Michael Jennings eludes Dylan Edwards to score.
Michael Jennings eludes Dylan Edwards to score. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

The 12,604-strong crowd then duly erupted when a swinging Jennings arm caught Isaah Yeo on the chin, knocking the Panthers captain out of the contest and the Eels down to 12 men.

With Yeo sporting two wobbly boots as a result of Jennings's foul play, the Parramatta veteran's sin-binning under the NRL's 2018 rule proved a game-changer, even without a resulting try to Maika Sivo being correctly brought back.

Wayde Egan immediately caught the shortened Eels napping from dummy-half for an eight-point deficit at the hour mark.

Parramatta's desperate goal-line defence had started well before Jennings was banished.

First Sivo denied Reagan Campbell-Gillard when he was bound for the try line, then Moses did likewise in a wrestle with Waqa Blake – giving away 13 kilos in the contest, but not the four-pointer.

But just as Jennings made his way back onto the paddock James Tamou broke the Blue & Gold wall, barging through utility Will Smith for a 14-12 ball game.

Parramatta Eels: Round 1

Just as they had throughout the first half, critical Panthers mistakes gave Parramatta prime attacking real estate.

It was Moses again proving the difference when his cross-field kick sat up superbly for Tepai Moeroa, only for the grounding to be called back.

In everything all day, Jennings fittingly had the final word when rookie Dylan Brown squared up the Panthers' right edge, the Eels centre carving through for the 78th-minute sealer.

Penrith Panthers: Round 1

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Parramatta Eels respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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