“I’m really happy where we are and very proud of the season we’ve put together. We’re the No.1 defensive team again and conceded less than 12 points per game again. That’s a pretty good achievement.”
The fact the Panthers were content to keep their big guns on the park might have been a surprise, but perhaps less so than the fact they were happy to show their rivals a few trick shots.
The two scrum tries for To’o were works of art, but there will be variations in store before a return bout with South Sydney next week, sans Scott Sorensen who dislocated a forearm in a tackle on Makahesi Makatoa.
The Eels more than held their own in the first half, despite Keegan Hipgrave suffering a worrying concussion, the latest in a career littered with brain injuries. They’ll have Mitchell Moses, Clint Gutherson and co back next week fighting for their NRL lives, but will it be enough?
Asked about the second half dominance from the Panthers, Arthur said: “It was always going to be the case, wasn’t it? The class was going to get us.
“[But] I’ve never walked into a dressing shed where we’ve had 40 points put on us and said I was proud of them, and I meant every word. Maybe they took us a bit lightly early in the piece. I thought we rattled them early. We got exactly what we needed out of it.
“I reckon our performance tonight beats half the competition. It hasn’t done anything to our confidence.”
Arthur’s 200th game as NRL coach might have been one of his least enjoyable, not because he kept his rolled blue and gold stars in the stands, but because he named his 18-year-old son Jake at halfback.
For advice about coaching a son, the Eels coach admitted he rang Ivan Cleary earlier this year. The only difference is Ivan barely has to coach Nathan, he just lets him run the team.
The Penrith No.7, whose bung shoulder has been described as a ticking time bomb, survived another week. It was no surprise he was at the heart of Penrith’s two first-half tries, combining with Luai for To’o to score the opener off a clinical scrum sweep.
But the Eels didn’t flinch. They responded when a desperate Tom Opacic squeezed past Paul Momirovski to ground an Arthur kick, later piling on five consecutive sets on the Penrith line through the masterful kicking of stand-in captain Will Smith and Arthur.
Tevita Pangai jnr’s second try in as many weeks in new colours, barrelling over from a short Cleary ball, was enough to gift the Panthers a 12-6 lead at the break.
And from there it was a procession, Cleary touching down last and ticking off another week before another date with the Rabbitohs and inevitable off-season surgery.
“They’ll be different [without Latrell Mitchell],” Ivan said of Penrith’s finals opponents. “Whenever you lose one of the best players in the game you can’t necessarily replace them. One man never makes a team. He wasn’t playing this time last year and they were pretty hard to beat.
“We know a bit about them and they know a bit about us. They’re an incredibly dangerous team and super consistent all year. We know how to beat him, but knowing and doing are two different things.”
PENRITH PANTHERS 40 (Brian To’o 3, Tevita Pangai jnr, Matt Burton, Api Koroisau, Nathan Cleary tries; Cleary 6 goals) defeated PARRAMATTA EELS 6 (Tom Opacic try; Blake Ferguson goal) at Cbus Super Stadium. Referee: Adam Gee.
Sports news, results and expert commentary. Sign up for our Sport newsletter.