A place in the NRL preliminary final is up for grabs when the Penrith Panthers take on their bogey team Parramatta Eels in the first qualifying final on Friday night.
The Panthers have been the team of the season once again when winning the minor premiership with ease, however the Eels have been their nemesis in 2022.
Penrith have lost just four games this season and the Eels are the team to inflict two of them. They will be looking to make it three on Friday night.
Whoever comes out on top will jump to the prelim and will be just one step away from a grand final appearance. The losers do get a second bite of the cherry though and will face one of the winners from this weekend’s elimination finals.
It will be a huge game on Friday night and we can expect a closely-fought exciting battle between two teams who will feel they can win the premiership.
If anyone can stop the Panthers in their tracks it could be the Eels as they have proven already. But this is finals and next level footy.
With game-day fast approaching let’s take a closer look at both teams.
What: Penrith Panthers v Parramatta Eels
Where: BlueBet Stadium, Penrith
When: 19:50 (AEST) Friday 9th September 2022
How to watch: Channel 9, Kayo, Foxtel
Odds: Penrith 2/5, Parramatta 2/1
The Panthers are out to win back-to-back premierships and they know they will be in for a tough encounter against their western Sydney rivals.
Not only have the Eels beaten Penrith on two occasions this season, they also ran Ivan Cleary’s side very close in last season’s semi-final.
The Panthers picked up a controversial 8-6 win before going on to beat Melbourne Storm and then South Sydney to claim the premiership.
They will be out to take a shorter route to the final this year and they will fancy their chances of getting the job done against the Eels as they are usually a very formidable side on their own patch.
However the Eels did beat them 22-20 at BlueBet Stadium back in May and Penrith will have to be at their very best to get through.
It is going to be interesting to see how sharp Nathan Cleary is on his return to the side. The star halfback has missed the last four games through suspension so he should be well rested, fresh and raring to go.
However if he has lost match sharpness then the Eels will be ready to pounce. His match-up against Eels playmaker Mitchell Moses will be huge and could decide the outcome of the game.
Despite missing much of the season through injury and suspension, Cleary has been hugely influential with impressive numbers that have included 14 try assists.
However Moses is in peak form at the moment after returning from injury and leads the NRL’s try-assists count with 22 this season.
Moses has been linking up well with Dylan Brown in recent weeks and an intriguing battle in the halves is on the cards. Cleary and Jarome Luai have formed some partnership but the Eels duo will be keen to take them down.
Luai is another who should be well rested following injury. He returned in round 24 but the Panthers then opted to rest him again in round 25.
Another big inclusion for the Panthers is the return of State of Origin hooker Api Koroisau who has recovered from an ankle injury and is ready to go.
The Eels warmed up for the encounter against the Panthers by seeing off the Melbourne Storm in fine style last week.
The 22-14 victory ensured that they pipped the Storm to fourth spot and will now get two bites of the cherry, the first being Friday night.
They could be peaking at just the right time after winning four of the last five matches and coach Brad Arthur is also boosted by the fact he has no fresh injuries or suspensions and can name the same 17 that overcame the Storm.
Indeed they have been boosted by the return of lock Nathan Brown who has recovered from a finger injury and played in the NSW Cup last week. Brown has been named as 18th man. Bailey Simonsson also keeps his place as a reserve.
With a number of star players moving on next season many believe this could be the Eels last chance to scoop the premiership for a while so they will be looking to go out with a bang.