Being an Eels fan has not been easy in recent decades, just ask Conal Hanna.
The Eels’ capacity for breaking hearts has become legendary. Abandoning an 18-2 lead with 11 minutes to play against the Bulldogs in the finals in 1998. Being eviscerated by Andrew Johns in the first half of the 2001 grand final. These, however, came in our good years. Far more of the past 36 have been spent in bumbling ineptitude both on and off the field. This is a team who cheated on the salary cap and still finished last.
Better news for the Panthers though who romped to a convincing 44-10 win over Norths Devils in the NRL State Championship.
Grand final day has not got off to a good start for the Eels with the Knights dominating the NRLW grand final.
How did we get here?
Parra have been there or thereabouts for four seasons now with this group of players under the leadership of Brad Arthur, but they’ve always been a step behind, in the shadow of the Panthers, Storm and Roosters.
A run of seven wins in their final nine matches saw then secure a double chance in the finals, and they took it with a narrow victory away to the Cowboys after dispensing with the Raiders.
Defending champions Penrith are the defining side of this era. A third grand final in a row complements two minor premierships in the past three years. They suffered only one defeat prior to round 20, and despite a late season wobble of three defeats in six outings they recovered for the finals series to smash first the Eels, then the Rabbitohs, despite giving Souths a 12-point start.
Hello everybody and welcome to live coverage of the 2022 NRL grand final between Penrith Panthers and Parramatta Eels. Kick-off at Sydney’s Accor Stadium is 7.30pm.
The NRL season has taken us from Townsville to Tāmaki Makaurau and everywhere in between, but it’s a pair of local rivals, separated by just a half-hour drive along the M4 that will compete for the Provan-Summons Trophy.
For the Panthers it’s business as usual, extending into a third season a period of excellence of historic proportions. For the Eels it’s an occasion to savour, a first grand final in 13 years, and an unexpected one after capitalising on the late-season blowouts of rivals to finish fourth on the ladder, then upset the Cowboys in North Queensland in their preliminary final.
Consequently, Penrith head in overwhelming favourites, but if there’s one team in the competition they wanted to avoid it’s Parra. The Panthers lost twice to the Eels during the regular season – in rounds nine and 20 – before getting one back in the first week of the finals.
Since the beginning of 2020 and the Mountain Men’s incredible run of form, the head-to-head tally against the Blue and Gold stands only 4-3 in favour of the minor premiers.
As Nick Tedeschi writes, a Western Derby on the biggest stage is a reflection of a changing tide at rugby league HQ.
Western Sydney has long been called the heartland of rugby league but it is also an area that under previous administrations was taken for granted, under-serviced and under-appreciated. During that time the AFL made its insurgence, launching the Greater Western Sydney Giants and then paying for the set-up of oval fields in traditional league and football strongholds. The A-League launched one – and eventually two – teams to service its dormant fanbase. And even then, the NRL did little to support an area with an inherent inclination to support the NRL.
That has very much changed over the last half-decade. Parramatta Stadium was knocked down and rebuilt as the spectacular CommBank Stadium. Penrith Stadium is, controversially, about to get similar treatment. In 2022, both the Panthers and Eels ranked in the top five for free-to-air games. It was the same story in 2021. Schedules have been favourable to both teams, particularly from a travel perspective, with Penrith playing just four interstate matches – including Magic Round and their final-round clash for which the starters did not make the trip to Townsville. Parramatta have boarded a plane just once since Magic Round.
The Panthers and Eels are clearly viewed as areas boasting not only rusted-on fans, but also growth demographics that can further entrench the code as the most supported in western Sydney.
There’s plenty to get through before kick-off, and if you want to join in, you can drop me an email or send me a tweet.
Source: The Guardian