Parramatta Eels blown off the park as sublime Penrith Panthers win again

The Parramatta Eels fans packed the stadium to witness their club's third Grand Final appearance in 36 years; ending the painfully long premiership drought foremost on their minds. With the screeching roar of Jimmy Barnes fading across the Homebush sky, the teams ran out to rapturous applause.

The crowd of over 84,000, with blue and gold more prominent than black, were fired up to inspire, and a "Parra, Parra, Parra" chant accompanied Penrith's opening set of six tackles.

It was obvious early that the Eels wanted to unsettle the Panthers, with Reed Mahoney pressuring Nathan Cleary's first kick. The Panthers were looking to do the same, with Viliame Kikau belting Mitchell Moses as he released his first kick of the night.

Both teams settled into the early exchanges determined not to make mistakes as they tried to exact as much damage on their opponents as possible. Panthers prop Moses Leota in particular was on the hunt, ironing out Eels jerseys with some powerful hits.

The Panthers made the first incursions deep into Eels territory, but an errant pass was intercepted by Maika Sivo, before referee Ashley Klein gave the Eels the first penalty of the game. Early in the next set, Dylan Brown put in a kick from halfway which Mitchell Moses haired off after. He was just beaten to the ball by Panthers flyer Brian To'o.

The Panthers were winning the heavy contact battle, with James Fisher-Harris joining Leoto in the trenches. They were hurting with their tackles and with their runs, draining the Eels and allowing their backs to create in space.

The first try came to Stephen Crichton after Dylan Edwards turned him back inside and he accelerated through the Eels' defence, running around Clinton Gutherson to crash over. The conversion took the Panthers to 6-0, and knocked a lot of the steam out of the crowd.

Cleary was trying to find Waqa Blake with his high floating bombs, but Gutherson and then Moses managed to place themselves underneath the early attempts. If the Eels thought they were doing it tough in defence, the arrival of Apisai Koroisau only raised the intensity of the Panthers' attack.

Playing the ball quickly and probing the back-pedaling Eels defence, the Panthers were soon in for a second try thanks to some slick passing to To'o's wing.

The Eels were struggling to leave their half of the field, and a short drop-out attempt from Gutherson went out on the full, allowing Cleary to kick a penalty goal from in front to make up for his missed conversion of the To'o try.

Parramatta were gutsy, but wave after wave of Panthers attack had them gasping for breath. The chants from the Eels supporters had died out, as they chewed their fingernails down to the bone. The Panthers were in again after Cleary cleverly kicked through the defence for the pursuing Scott Sorensen, with Gutherson nowhere to be seen.

The crowd was stunned, the Panthers were on their way to another premiership title and there was still 10 minutes to go in the first half. They had all the ball, all the territorial advantage, and all the points.

The second half picked up where the first left off. The Panthers playing the game in the Eels' half and probing for the inevitable opportunity. Eels winger Blake dropped a kick from Cleary, which was somehow ruled a knock-back, before minutes later dropping the ball as he made a run out from his own line.

To'o was soon over again in the corner, with everyone expecting the try to be overruled, as decoy runner Kikau had made contact with the outside shoulder of Moses in the defensive line. The bunker introduced a new call, saying that Kikau was through the gap before Moses made a defensive decision to tackle him. It was a sensible call, Moses could have avoided Kikau, but the Grand Final seemed to be a strange time to introduce common sense to a ruling that has been set for years now.

Not long after a stripping call was challenged by the Panthers and the bunker overruled the penalty and called it a knock back. The Eels players and fans could not believe it, as everything began to stack up against them and any chance they might have had of mounting a fightback.

Thirteen minutes into the second half the Eels had their best opportunity to trouble the scoreboard, but the Panthers defence was resolute, and Gutherson ended the set by spilling the ball in a tackle.

On their next visit to the Panthers try line, the ball found Maika Sivo in the clear and with the line in front of him; he spilt the ball in the tackle of Crichton.

The Eels were desperate and willing to try anything including a grubber kick from inside their own quarter which found Bailey Simmonson. He took off downfield and tried his best to run around Edwards, who came across in cover and took him into touch with the perfect legs tackle.

The Panthers took the ball back down into Eels territory and put on a classic sweeping backline move which saw Charlie Staines step inside Gutherson to score. The scoreboard was officially becoming embarrassing at 28-0.

The Eels looked to get a break with a penalty against Fisher-Harris for obstructing a kick chase, but the Panthers challenged that one and received a favourable call from the bunker once more.

Still, Parramatta had their challenge up their sleeve and Gutherson decided to use it after he clearly knocked on a high ball. Within minutes the Panthers were making another challenge, knocking the momentum out of the game, and losing for the first time on the night.

The Eels were still fighting hard, with Moses pulling Cleary down inches short of the line. They had another chance inside the Panthers 20 metre zone, but came up empty once again.

Then with only four minutes remaining a consolation try for the Eels, with a rampaging run by Isaiah Papali'i, seeing Gutherson under the posts. Life was breathed back into the crowd for a moment as shortly after a break and kick ahead by Will Penisini, was gathered by the much-maligned Jakob Arthur for a second Parramatta try., .

It was of course, too little, too late. On the night very little had gone right for the Eels, in a game where they needed absolutely everything to go right to have any chance of victory.

The Panthers had executed an almost perfect Grand Final performance. The Eels simply blown off the park by the intensity, the speed and the skill of the premiers. The Panthers forwards were brutal in the middle of the field and the battered Eels had no answers.