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To'o treble ensures Panthers roar into finals

Panthers coach Ivan Cleary lauded the efforts of Brian To'o in just his second game back from ankle surgery as the side finalised their preparations ahead of a showdown with South Sydney next week.

To'o crossed for the first hat-trick of his Telstra Premiership career as the Panthers held off an understrength Eels side early before cruising to a 40-6 victory on Friday night.

Penrith's left edge fired with four of seven tries as the To'o and Matt Burton combination clicked alongside Jarome Luai and Viliame Kikau in a performance that sets the side up nicely for the finals.

To'o, who missed five weeks of the competition with an ankle injury, backed up his near 300-metre effort last week with another 243 metres against the Eels.

"He said after the surgery that it felt better than last time," Cleary said.

"We were hoping he'd beat the six-week mark. He ended up [coming back] a week earlier.

"Not just coming back but playing like he wasn't even injured. He's just amazing."

The Panthers' minor premiership hopes were dashed before kick-off with Melbourne's win over Cronulla. Cleary's side is now locked in to meet the Rabbitohs in week one of the playoffs. 

Brad Arthur's decision to rest several of his stars killed off any chances of a top-four finish with Parramatta set to play Newcastle in a sudden-death final next week.

Cleary in awe of super healer To'o

Cleary's call to play a full-strength side paid dividends with their attack far better than last week's win over the Wests Tigers, although they lost Scott Sorensen to a nasty arm injury.

"I think he's dislocated his wrist, I don't know much more than that, they couldn't put it back in," Cleary offered, fearing Sorensen's season could be over.

"Hope for the best there, [but] I think he'd be doing it hard at the moment."

The Panthers looked in for an easy night when To'o finished off a scrum play five minutes into the contest but the Eels provided some resilience to frustrate their western Sydney rivals.

Parramatta's execution struggled without their starting halves but stand-in captain Will Smith provided some composure alongside Jacob Arthur to ask questions of Penrith's defence early.

Arthur helped get the Eels on the board with a deft kick for Tom Opacic in the 13th minute but from there the Panthers took control of the game.

Stone gets Fisher-Harris with a beauty

Nathan Cleary orchestrated a slick pass to send Tevita Pangai jnr over from short range in another overall performance that boosted his Dally M chances.

Five unanswered tries in the second half ensured there was no rust for Cleary's outfit ahead of their charge towards the title.

"The first half there were some good things but pretty basic errors. To Parramatta's credit I thought they played well and kicked well," Cleary said.

"They made us pay for our errors but the second half, [it was] pretty professional.

"I'm pretty happy with where we're sitting and how we go into next week."

Cleary said the Rabbitohs remained a threat despite Latrell Mitchell not being in the line-up following a six-match ban.

The Panthers ended South Sydney's season last year in the preliminary final.

"One man never makes a team," Cleary said. "He [Mitchell] wasn't playing this time last year and they were pretty hard to beat.

"They'll be different, whenever you lose one of the best players in the game you can't replace them man for man. Who they bring up will have a different skill set.

"They're [still] an incredibly dangerous team. It's going to be a great challenge. We know how to beat them but knowing and doing it is a different thing."

Press Conference: Eels v Panthers - Round 25, 2021

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