The Parramatta Eels have qualified for the 2021 Harold Matthews decider after defeating Penrith in a high quality final.
Played before a big crowd at H.E Laybutt Sporting Complex, Blacktown, the match was a tense affair from start to finish.
The Eels were the first to register points after just eight minutes when five-eighth Blaize Talagi found centre Charlie Guymer with a terrific short ball inside the Penrith quarter. The hard running Guymer then shook off defenders and linked with winger Suliasi Aho who crossed in the corner.
From there the action was end to end, with each team having multiple opportunities to add to the score line. It was edge of the seat stuff as last gasp defence, an intercept and a touch judge call determined the fate of exciting attacking raids.
The Panthers were the next to cross when their clever dummy half, Billy Scott, darted through the Eels left side defence in a 30 metre run to the corner. The four all score was indicative of the contest on show.
In a frenetic last ten minutes of the first half the Eels launched raid after raid on the Panthers line, but the Penrith boys scrambled superbly.
Close to half time, Charlie Guymer looked to have beaten the defence as he burst onto a cracking pass to cross out wide. Unfortunately, the touch judge’s forward pass call denied the try, and the teams hit the sheds with the scores locked at one unconverted try apiece.
The second half picked up where the first half left off with energetic attack matched by bone-jarring defence. Seven minutes into the half, things heated up after an Eels challenge on the Panthers kicker led to a minor fracas and a Penrith penalty in front of the Eels posts. The Panthers took the penalty goal option to strike the lead for the first time in the match.
It wasn’t long before the Eels struck back. Marching downfield after a penalty went their way, the Blue and Golds were soon in the Panthers quarter. A shift to the left saw back rower Joshua Alzahim shrug off multiple defenders in a sprint to the corner for an important try. The missed conversion left the Eels two points in front with around a quarter of the game remaining.
The Panthers then had their fans jumping in celebration when it seemed that they had scored in the left corner. However, in a moment of high drama, the Eels scramble stopped the winger from scoring, and when Penrith quickly spread the ball across the field the defence did the same in the opposite corner.
After absorbing the pressure on their own line, the Eels were again next to score. Mounting an attack inside the Penrith red zone, and with runners in motion, dummy half Yehya Ayache feigned to go left then dived over under the posts for a try that ensured the Eels took an eight point lead into the final ten minutes.
The action didn’t ease one bit during the final minutes of the game as firstly Parra, then Penrith, launched wave after wave of attack on the respective goal lines. Penalties, set restarts and line drop outs added to the drama.
Fittingly, this belter of a match ended with the Panthers throwing everything in their arsenal at the line, but the Eels defence held firm as the final siren signalled their 14 to 6 victory.
A date with the Manly Sea Eagles in the Big Dance at Leichhardt Oval next Saturday now awaits the Eels.
Parramatta 14 (Tries: Suliasi Aho, Joshua Alhazim, Yehya Ayache Goals: Ethan Sanders 1) defeated Penrith 6.