Penrith’s cardiac kids threatened to pick up where they left off in 2018 with another memorable comeback after a mistake-riddled first 40 minutes, but returning coach Ivan Cleary looks to be facing the same problems confronted by Anthony Griffin.
The result did come at a cost for the Eels with hard-nosed lock Nathan Brown lasting less than 20 minutes with a serious biceps injury, while Penrith lost recruit Hame Sele to a suspected fractured arm only moments earlier.
It did little to dampen the Eels though, who held Penrith scoreless for the first half and 135 minutes in total in the space of a fortnight after their 20-0 demolition job in their trial.
It was supposed to be Ivan Cleary’s homecoming at the foot of the mountains but that was almost completely overshadowed by home video exploits surfacing on social media in the past month.
So as much as this was about the footy finally being back on, it was as much a chance to work out what’s going on between the ears of a squad billed as a legitimate premiership contender.
At first glance, the Panthers seemed more sure with phone rather than football in hand. They bumbled their way through a wet first 40 minutes and would have been grateful to only trail by eight points at the break. Their back three of Dylan Edwards, Josh Mansour and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak were particularly culpable with errors coming out of their own end.
Ferguson inspired the Eels’ first try, batting back a Moses bomb for Brad Takairangi to kick through with Marata Niukore scoring.
Their second try in the opposite corner was only slightly less chaotic, Michael Jennings juggling his way over after Eels debutant Shaun Lane had pierced the line.
Reed Mahoney padded the lead when he fended off Reagan Campbell-Gillard just five minutes into the second half, but you just knew it was going to happen. Leading by 14 points – the same margin as last year’s opening round epic – the Eels wobbled.
The match swung on a disallowed Sivo try, which was hauled back for Jennings’ high shot on Yeo which left the Penrith co-captain without with the ball and severely concussed. Jennings was sent to the sin bin.
On the next set, Wayde Egan scrambled over. And just as Jennings sprinted back on the field James Tamou barged over to haul the hosts to within two points.
But this might be a different Eels this year, a different Panthers. And the Eels hung on to write a very different script to the first month of 2018.
Parramatta Eels 20 (Michael Jennings 2, Marata Niukore, Reed Mahoney tries; Mitchell Moses 2 goals) defeated Penrith Panthers 12 (Wayde Egan, James Tamou tries; Nathan Cleary 2 goals) at Panthers Stadium. Referees: Ashley Klein, Chris Butler. Crowd: 12,604.
Adam Pengilly is a Sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.