A stunning first half performance propelled Parramatta to a 34-10 win against a Penrith outfit reduced to 12 men for 62 minutes after the send-off of star playmaker Nathan Cleary.
The Eels were on top before Cleary was sensationally given his marching orders by referee Todd Smith for a lifting tackle on Kiwis five-eighth Dylan Brown at a sold out CommBank Stadium.
Piling on five first half tries, Parramatta inflicted Penrith's second defeat of the season - and they were also responsible for the other loss in round nine.
Trailing 30-4 at halftime and without Cleary or injured five-eighth Jarome Luai, the Panthers showed why they have been the NRL's top team of the past three seasons to limit the Eels to just one late try despite being a man down.
Fiji winger Maika Sivo and hooker Reed Mahoney scored two tries each, while halfback Mitchell Moses produced two 40/20 kicks as the Eels kept their top four hopes alive after last weekend's 36-14 loss to Brisbane.
Cleary was given his marching orders in the 18th minute after placing his hands between the legs of Brown, who flipped awkwardly in the tackle.
"Your hands were between the legs. His head hit the ground. Go," Smith told him.
Nathan Cleary sent off
The NSW Origin playmaker is the seventh player sent off this season and first Penrith player dismissed in 10 years since Travis Burns in 2012.
The Eels were leading 12-4 at the time and scored from the ensuing penalty.
Match: Eels v Panthers
Round 20 -
Venue: CommBank Stadium, Sydney
- The Panthers started as they have in almost every other match this season when Sean O'Sullivan sliced between Tom Opacic and Waqa Blake after receiving a Nathan Cleary pass to score in just the seventh minute.
- However, it was all downhill from there for the premiers as the Eels hit back in the 11th minute through second-rower Isaiah Papali'i, who outleapt Izack Tago for a Dylan Brown kick.
- A 40/20 by Mitchell Moses gave the Eels field position and Maika Sivo ensured his star playmaker was rewarded for the effort when he crossed in the 15th minute.
- Cleary was sent off three minutes later and Parramatta hooker Reed Mahoney took immediate advantage of the overlap when he performed a simple run-around with Junior Paulo to score in the next set of tackles.
Eels on the Mahoney
- Mahoney got his second try when he dived over from dummy half in the 27th minute to give the Eels a 24-4 lead.
- When Parramatta fullback and captain Clint Gutherson grubbered into the in-goal and won the race for the ball as it bounced awkwardly away from O'Sullivan, Penrith were staring down their biggest defeat in recent years.
Gutherson joins in the fun
- Another 40/20 kick by Moses just four minutes into the second half had Parramatta fans in the capacity crowd wondering how much their team would win by but the Panthers played with renewed grit after the break.
- Penrith defended strongly with just 12 men and through disciplined ball handling they were able to reduce Parramatta's attacking chances.
- Remarkably, the Panthers won the second half after prop Moses Leota put second-rower Liam Martin over in the 63rd minute before Sivo scored his second try two minutes before fulltime.
Martin gets one back for the Panthers
Play of the game
Even before Cleary was sent off, the Eels appeared to be on top and it was a 40/20 kick from halfback Mitchell Moses in the 13th minute that gave them the upper hand.
Winger Maika Sivo scored from the ensuing set of tackles and Parramatta led 12-4 when Cleary received his marching orders a few minutes later.
Moses makes a mammoth 40/20
What they said
"The first half was good, we played nice and professional. Sometimes it gets hard in that situation where they are a man down and you have got plenty of footy. Our completions were above 90 per cent, we stuck to the plan. They are a very good defensive team so we needed to make sure we ran the footy nice and hard, and had plenty of numbers around the ball if we could get an offload to try and break them up. They were down to 12 and competed very hard, and it just got a bit lateral at times but it is two points we will take," - Eels coach Brad Arthur.
Eels: Round 20
“We won the second half so I was really proud of the boys, actually. I thought they were very courageous. There were some lessons in that game. When Nat first went off we didn’t handle it. They were on fire at the time too and we just couldn’t stem the flow. I couldn’t have asked for much more in the second half. I thought it was really good. Obviously, with the send off and losing your halfback, for a little while there we just didn’t handle that but it is not something we have really done before so we will learn from that and I thought we did in the second half," - Panthers coach Ivan Cleary.
Panthers: Round 20
The Panthers are still on track to win the minor premiership but their ladder lead has been reduced to six points with matches against the Raiders, Storm, Rabbitohs, Warriors and Cowboys to finish the season.
With star five-eighth Jarome Luai sidelined for up to six weeks with a knee injury, Penrith coach Ivan Cleary will be sweating on the length of any ban Nathan receives.
The win keeps the Eels within sight of a top four berth but they also face some tough opposition in the run to the finals, starting with a trip to Manly next Friday night.
The Rabbitohs, Bulldogs, Broncos and Storm complete their run home.