Brad Arthur has declared Parramatta’s 22-20 win over Penrith as his proudest as Eels coach after his side ended the Panthers’ record home run at Bluebet Stadium.
With counterpart Ivan Cleary watching on from his hospital bed with an infected knee, Arthur’s Eels came back from 14-10 down with 15 minutes to play on Friday.
It marked the Panthers’ first loss of the season, in a ferocious western-Sydney derby that was not without controversy and came down to a missed Nathan Cleary two-point penalty goal in the final minute.
The result snapped Penrith’s 21-match winning streak at home, the longest of any side in the NRL-era and one that stretched back to July 2019 when lockdown-inducing pandemics were a thing for Hollywood movies.
COVID again played its part on Friday, with Penrith assistant Cameron Circaldo sidelined by the virus and having to shout out defensive calls over the phone into the coaching box.
Ivan Cleary also spoke to stand-in man Andrew Webster around four times through the game, after undergoing surgery on Friday morning.
In reality, no matter who Penrith had in the coaching box, it wouldn’t have made much difference to the result.
“I said to the players after the game, in nine years now I think it’s the proudest I have been in my time at the club,” Arthur said.
“On the back of four six-day turnarounds. These guys (Penrith) are a very good football team that haven’t been beaten out here for a while.
“We’ve only got 19 guys from our full-time squad available, five guys couldn’t train during the week because they’re crook.
“It was a great effort.”
A week after being flogged by North Queensland in Darwin’s heat, Clint Gutherson was brilliant for Parramatta while Junior Paulo and Isaiah Papali’i were big in the middle.
And crucially, when it mattered most the Eels were able to take their chances.
Leading 14-10 with with 18 minutes left and after dominating the second-half tug-of-war, the Panthers made an uncharacteristic mistake with James Fisher-Harris putting the ball down on halfway after a set restart.
It took the visitors just four minutes to capitalise, with Gutherson putting Ryan Matterson through a hole to give the Eels an unlikely lead.
And when Dylan Edwards let a Mitch Moses bomb bounce on the next set and Dylan Brown chased through to score, Parramatta led 22-14.
Penrith hit back through Spencer Leniu with two minutes to play, but Cleary’s missed shot from outside 40 sealed Penrith’s fate.
“The boys are disappointed. They want to win every game,” Webster said.
“They also know we’re not going to be perfect all season and forever.”
Earlier, Will Penisini had put Gutherson over for the Eels’ opener, before the controversy began.
Parramatta were awarded a penalty try when Jaeman Salmon held Reed Mahoney back close to the line, with the Eels hooker falling just short as he collected an offload.
Penrith then hit back on halftime to make it 10-10, but only after referee Gerard Sutton inexplicably missed a clear Viliame Kikau knock-on.
From the next play Kikau was able to kick for Taylan May to score, with the second-rower also putting his winger over with a deft ball early in the second half.
Kikau was superb throughout with a key charge down before May’s second try, and while Brian To’o and Moses Leota also impressed on return, the Panthers’ streak was still ended.