What to make of the NRL’s Western Derby?

Not much has been said about the sporting battle for Sydney’s west lately. Possibly because that A-League is over and the Wanderers have failed to deliver a trophy again (though the two Finals are fairly impressive). Perhaps it’s because the GWS Giants are failing to engage the area with sub-standard performances.

For whatever reason, the story of the year is the success of its western representatives after so many years in the collective wilderness. This was the reason AFL and Soccer were supposedly making inroads into Rugby league, right? And yet, the NRL has spectacularly failed to recognise, the celebrate and promote this fortuitous state of events.

From the NRL-leading Bulldogs to the Top 8-orbiting Tigers, greater inner and western Sydney is on a tear. Tonight we have the 3rd-placed Panthers at home to the in-form, and 4th-placed, Eels. It’s a westie extravaganza out Penrith way, and if I had the time, and the great man was playing, I’d have packed a solid lunch and taken the journey out there myself. Like the rich & famous feasting on ice cream topped with gold shavings, there’s something magnificent about those resplendent deep blue Eels jerseys, especially tinged with the scent of success!

Neither are my teams, but the Dr seems to recognise what the NRL doesn’t – this is an event that happens … when ..? Ever? When have these two teams been up in the Top 4 side-by-side? The NRL’s top brass should be there tonight, to a man, floating in on a promotion that would make you dizzy. Anyhoot …

Parramatta come to Sportingbet Stadium with a record that contradicts their two consecutive wooden spoons, and general poor standard of play since the 2009 Grand Final. They have been competitive even in their worst years, twice being edged by the Panthers by a point, and even winning the late 2010 match.

The 2014 incarnation of the Eels is something quite different altogether, and would rate themselves a tremendous chance of dominating a rather uninspiring Panthers in a similar way to Round 4 this year (32-16). Who would have thought that at this stage of the season, Parramatta would be the top point-scorer per match, lead line breaks, and head the list for tries scored too?

Points Scored per matchBoasting a 23.9-point average score is offset, however, by a second worst Missed Tackle Percentage, allowing the opposition to score 22.7 points themselves. Look who’s below them on this score, and you’re looking at the representatives of the bottom four:

Points Conceded per match

The result is that both Parramatta and the Panthers sit right next to each other when it comes to ‘net’ points per match, and have reached that point in markedly different ways. The Panthers have mixed a pedestrian attack with defence good enough to reach 3rd, but with a For & Against of only +23 points. The distribution of their wins and losses lay within 38 points. [update: after a 38-12 thumping tonight, it’s hard to call the Panthers’ attack pedestrian now!]

The Eels, on the other hand, have mixed big wins with large losses, and a spread of points of 88 points.

In any case, the accumulation of For & Against throughout both their seasons up until now suggests this one might be harder to pick than a broken nose:

Panthers vs EelsUnfortunately for all of us (but not Penrith), Jarryd Hayne will be resting a hamstring that is dogier than a 3am kebab, and has a history of popping under fatigue. It’s in NSW’s interests for Origin Mark II, but the Eels might miss his incursions into the backline.

An intriguing statistic mentioned today (by Fox) that the Eels have won just 3 matches from the last 23 without Jarryd Hayne becomes less intriguing by the minute when you consider their winning record has been abysmal up until this year – even with him.

Jarryd Hayne is a rare talent, and a rare beast. I say that because it seems as if he plays even better when Parramatta play well, rather than the reverse. The addition of quality players to the roster, including Peats and Origin-bound Hopoate, mean that the Eels can count on getting the best out of him more often than not. It also suggests they will be more than competitive tonight.

Their trump card, if it comes down to the wire, is that the Panthers tend to perform poorly into the end of matches – pretty much from the 50th minute, on average:

Panthers Point TrackerThe ace in the Panthers’ hand though, is that they have played six 6-point or less matches this year and won four of them – and they wield field-goal exponents that are probably the best (as a combination) in the NRL (Walsh & Soward).

The Eels have played three, winning just one. That’s not to say they can’t win a close one. Of course they can. Just that the odds are against them.

Panthers at home are a tough proposition, and I’m sure the pokie music from Panthers will be turned up loud to distract Sandow. But I think they can do it, led by a backline that is scintillating even without the Hayne Plane.

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