Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Western Sydney Derby to break a season

Parramatta and Penrith have long enjoyed the healthy rivalry that comes with a local derby. Built upon geographical distance and maintained by the passion of loyal fans, local derbies present an opportunity to get one over your closest rival.

They allow one club to silence the other for another year, season, or until the next match. They also allow one set of fans to enjoy the satisfaction of the misery the losing team will suffer following the match.

Sometimes they’re pumped up; sometimes they’re under-hyped.

Regardless of the build up, this Sunday’s derby between the Eels and Panthers presents an opportunity for a season to be sunk – and a season to be kept alive. That is the predicament of both club’s situation as the NRL competition heads into round 19, with just seven games remaining after Sunday’s match.

Penrith enjoyed bragging rights in Round 5 with a 20-18 heart-stopping win.
While no doubt the Eels are under the most pressure to keep their season alive in what must be considered a do-or-die game in order for their final’s chances to remain, the Panthers will surely be feeling it too after coming off consecutive losses and still yet to find any consistency in their results. 

Sitting in 14th position on the NRL ladder now that their points have been stripped for rorting the salary cap, Parramatta will likely need to win their remaining seven games to take their current points total of 12 to 26, to be any hope of creeping into the top 8.  

Five of those seven games will come against teams currently outside the top 8, with only Brisbane and Canberra to play from those sitting pretty. A win on Sunday could leave Parramatta as a realistic chance of making the finals.

Penrith on the other hand, sit in 10th position with a total of 18 points to their name. Whilst in a higher position than Parramatta, their chances of final’s qualification hinge on whether they can produce some succinct performances and learn to put the opposition away.

A similar run home will see them take on just the Broncos and Warriors from the top 8, with an equal number of five games against teams from the bottom half of the table. With the touted number of around 28 points required to make the finals each year, Penrith still have some leeway to drop a few games along the way.

But they will need that leeway given their indifferent results across the opening 18 rounds. Unable to beat the sides they should like the Dragons and Titans; yet able to knock off Brisbane and go ever so close against Canterbury and North Queensland, Penrith’s season has been somewhat of a roller coaster.

A closer look reveals 13 out of Penrith’s 16 games this season have been won or lost by 8 points or less. They have consistently taken their games down to the wire and have struggled to show a killer instinct. It’s clear a loss this weekend could spell the demise of their season.

Parramatta’s form can be looked at in two ways: on the surface they have 10 wins from 16 games; however, if you view it from the time they were deemed under the cap and cleared to play for points, they have won 4 from their last 7.

A remarkable achievement considering how in tatters their house is, and how tumultuous their season has been. Eels’ coach Brad Arthur has managed to keep his team performing on the pitch amidst all the club’s dramas. A galvanising win last week over the Roosters will have them ready for Sunday.

Both sides have also had to cope with changes to their line-up and persesonal throughout the year. While Parramatta’s key loss of Nathan Peats was forced, their acquisition of Jeff Robson to cover for out-going half Kieran Foran was one they didn’t see coming. The Eels have dealt with the changes well, with minimal disruption to their overall performances.

Penrith elected to let Jamie Soward leave the club after the rise of Nathan Cleary, and lost livewire hooker James Segeyaro to the Super League. Both losses signal a change in direction by Anthony Griffin, but their loss to a depleted Cronulla last week showed they haven’t yet developed the fluency to be where they should be.

They moved to sign former Super League Man of Steel winner Zac Hardaker in an effort to replace injured centres Peta Hiku and Dean Whare. A handy replacement given his status in the U.K, but a mid-season switch doesn’t leave much time to build smart and strong combinations.

With both sides on the brink of either kicking on with it or falling away in 2016, the local derby will take on extra significance. The thrilling Round 5 victory by Penrith – at the death of course – seems like it was a world away, but it provides a tantalising insight to what Sunday afternoon at Pepper Stadium may bring.