The Eels waited 13 years to play a grand final and they were taught a brutal lesson in their 28-12 loss to the Panthers.
Penrith, who have now sealed back-to-back premierships, greeted their western Sydney rivals with aggressive and relentless defence.
Not only were the Eels gasping for air 20 minutes into the contest but they had no ball too. Their defence was constantly tested and they went into the halftime break with just 39 per cent of possession.
The big boys up front were completely out-muscled by their opposition, giving Parramatta’s dangermen little room to create.
Read on for the Eels’ Grand Final player ratings.
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1. CLINT GUTHERSON – 6
Couldn’t fault the skipper’s effort — even in the dying minutes of the game he put his body on the line to take on Brian To’o one-on-one — and got a consolation try in the final five minutes. He was safe under Nathan Cleary’s bombs and cleaned up at the back several times, but he had moments he’d like to forget — like a short dropout going out on the full. Gutherson was also out of position in Scott Sorensen’s try.
2. MAIKA SIVO – 5
Had an opportunity to score a crucial try to get the Eels on the board but had the ball stripped one-on-one. Saw more opportunities in the second half but couldn’t break Penrith’s rock-solid wall.
3. WILL PENISINI – 5
The 20-year-old put his body on the line in a cracking one-on-one tackle on Viliame Kikau. Had limited opportunities with ball in hand but made 11 tackles with zero misses.
4. BAILEY SIMONSSON – 5
Put a shot on Edwards to try and inspire his team and made a break in the second half in one of the only moments the Eels threatened. Unfortunately injured his shoulder as he was tackled over the sideline and left the field.
5. WAQA BLAKE – 4
Had some good and not so good moments. Saved a try when he knocked the ball dead before Viliame Kikau could ground it, but knocked on early in the second half.
6. DYLAN BROWN – 4.5
We got a glimpse of what could have been when he kicked a long-range chip on the first tackle for Mitch Moses in the first half. But that was about the most attacking spark we saw from the five-eighth. Made 26 tackles but missed two and was caught out defensively in Penrith’s first try.
7. MITCHELL MOSES – 4.5
Was suffocated by Panthers players and couldn’t do what he does best — create. Although he did have a hand in the lead-up of the Eels’ two tries. Missed five tackles — and was caught out defensively in a Panthers try — but credit for pulling down Viliame Kikau one-on-one.
8. REAGAN CAMPBELL-GILLARD – 4
Had some admirable moments early in defence like a bone-rattler on Dylan Edwards and a desperate tackle on Liam Martin, but was kept quiet in attack. Only took four runs in the first half for 27 metres. Got more space in the second half, finishing with 66 running metres, but was completely out-muscled by his opposing big men.
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9. REED MAHONEY – 6
A huge defensive effort, notching up 36 tackles with zero misses by half time. Finished with a game-high of 53 with only three misses. Took a gamble with cross-field grubber for Bailey Simonsson in one of the few moments of creativity for the Eels.
10. JUNIOR PAULO – 4
Just like his front row partner, Paulo was barely sighted in the first half, only taking four runs for 37 metres. He tried to make up for lost time in his second stint, finishing with 75 running metres, but it was too little, too late. Was, however, rock-solid in defence, making 24 tackles with just one miss.
11. SHAUN LANE – 6
The Panthers clearly did their homework on the in-form second-rower because he only busted two tackles and didn’t throw a single offload. Lane topped the metres for Eels forwards with 103 and was flawless in defence with 34 tackles and zero misses. He tried, but was contained.
12. ISAIAH PAPALI’I – 6
Had an unusually quiet first half but started to come alive in the second half, finishing with 102 running metres, four tackle busts, three offloads — and a play that set up the Eels’ only try. Made 41 tackles, but was clearly exhausted late in the game, missing seven tackles.
17. MARATA NIUKORE – 4
Was replaced in the 18th minute but when he was on the field, he offered little with nine metres off two runs and 12 tackles with two misses. Returned in the 58th minute but didn’t have an impact on the game.
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13. RYAN MATTERSON – 5.5
Was injected into the game in the 18th minute in a bid to change the tempo but Matterson couldn’t sway things. Got 95 running metres and three offloads, but like so many of his teammates, was kept contained.
14. NATHAN BROWN – 4
Only got 26 minutes on the field and didn’t add any brutality to the Eels’ pack.
15. JAKOB ARTHUR – 5
Got his opportunity in the final five minutes and scored the final try of the game to make the scoreline a little easier for Eels fans to stomach.
16. OREGON KAUFUSI – 4
Only played 26 minutes off the bench. Finished with 35 metres off five runs and 17 tackles with one miss.