Penrith v Parramatta Sunday, March 11, 4:10pm (AEDT) Panthers Stadium, Penrith
The Panthers will be happy to get the season up-and-running after their poor trial loss to a second-string Bulldogs side, the off-field drama about the likes of Bryce Cartwright and Matt Moylan leaving the club, and the rumours that coach Anthony Griffin has lost the dressing room. James Maloney plays his first regular season match in the No.6 jersey alongside halves partner Nathan Cleary. Jarryd Hayne will make his return in Eels colours at centre, while Bevan French has been given first crack at the No.1 jersey while Clint Gutherson recovers from an ACL injury. The Wolf is expecting a Top 4 finish for the Eels this year and expects them to be strong in the Battle of the West.
FormPenrith were highly impressive in the club debut of James Maloney, whipping the Sydney Roosters 30-18, before an equally horrid performance against Canterbury where the Panthers were downed 24-10 by a second-string Bulldogs side. Parramatta played just a single trial and were highly impressive in winning 26-6 against Newcastle with Bevan French recording a double.
Key MatchupNathan Brown v Trent Merrin: Nathan Brown was Mr Consistent for the Eels in 2017 and recently signed a new deal to stay at Parramatta until the end of 2020. It was good reward for one of the most improved players in the NRL, and he has become one of the first picked by Brad Arthur. By all reports, Trent Merrin has been training the house down and is in the best shape of his career. The Panthers need more from him this year and Anthony Griffin will have the confidence to increase his minutes if his boy allows him. The Wolf is expecting a bounce back year from Merrin and an Origin recall might not be out of the question.
Stats That Matter– Penrith have won 8 of their last 13 against Parramatta, including three of their last four at Penrith Stadium. – None of the last four clashes have topped 40 points. – Penrith are 23-20 ATS at Penrith since 2014 with the under hitting at 60%. – As a favourite of 4 or less at the ground they are 4-8 ATS. – The Eels are 9-5 ATS away from home in day games while they are 7-4 ATS as an outsider in those games. – The Eels are 4-2 ATS with a perfect 6-0 under number when an outsider of 3.5 or less.
Final ThoughtsThe Wolf isn’t one to read into trial form, but the Panthers were extremely poor against a second-string Bulldogs side. He also isn’t sure if everything is as rosy as they say at the foot of the mountains. Happy to side with the Eels as slight outsiders here, with the question marks surrounding the Panthers.
How It’s Shaping UpParramatta by 2
Recommended BetsBest: Parramatta ($1.95) Value: Parramatta 1-12 ($3.25) First Tryscorer: Michael Jennings ($13)