Scoreless Panthers try-ing hard to break Eels hoodoo

Joanna Guelas |

Nathan Cleary (second right) says the Panthers have to change their mindset against the Eels.
Nathan Cleary (second right) says the Panthers have to change their mindset against the Eels.

Licking their wounds after a scoreless start to their NRL title defence, Penrith have set their sights on breaking their Western Sydney derby hoodoo.

The three-time premiership winners were condemned to their first scoreless defeat since 2022 after being denied a try in the 48th minute against Melbourne for obstruction. The Storm eventually won the game 8-0.

Taking their World Club Challenge defeat to Wigan in February into account, Penrith have not crossed for a try in more than two hours of game-time.

Ivan Cleary’s charges go again this Friday with a date at home against Parramatta, but they will have history against them.

The Panthers have regularly come out on top of their city rivals in the finals series, but, perhaps without the pressure of the big stage, have failed to snatch victory in the regular season.

Penrith last came out on top in the regular-season derby in September 2021, taking home bragging rights with a 34-point drubbing.

The Eels have since held on to the keys to Western Sydney, claiming a 14-point victory in their last meeting.

Panthers co-captain Nathan Cleary conceded his side may have to change their mindset going into the battle of the west.

“It is weird how it’s turned out. I don’t know what it is,” Cleary said on Wednesday.

“I think we’ve got to treat this as a bigger game than what it is.

“If we play the way … we did last week, they’ll beat us again.”

The Panthers are the first reigning premiers to be held scoreless in the opening round, with Sydney in 2020 the only defending premiers to start 0-2 in the past 15 seasons.

No team has failed to score in round one and gone on to win the competition that season.

Asked what went wrong against the Storm, Cleary was quick to reject concern of a World Cup Challenge hangover.

“I wouldn’t use that (World Cup Challenge defeat) as an excuse,” he said.

“Credit to Melbourne, they really put us under a lot of pressure.

“It’s annoying to think about that and look back on it, that we allowed that to happen.

“Particularly for myself, being a leader and that halfback position – I could have done a lot more to just settle it down and just play better.”

In a boost for the Panthers, centre Izack Tago has been locked in until the end of the 2028 season.

The 21-year-old two-time premiership winner was already contracted with the club for 2025.

“I already had a couple years on my contract to go, but I think just re-signing a few more years on top of that shows how much I want to be here,” Tago said on Wednesday.

“It’s all I’ve ever known. I told my family straight away as soon as I heard about it this morning.”