Eels forward Shaun Lane has fired a warning shot to Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary, just days before the blockbuster western Sydney grand final at Accor Stadium.
Parramatta advanced through to the 2022 decider with a comeback victory against the Cowboys, while the reigning champions cruised home in the second-half with a convincing win over South Sydney.
It sets up the first grand final encounter between the two rivals, and the Eels first big chance of premiership glory since their loss in the 2009 decider with Melbourne.
Speaking on NRL 360 on Tuesday night, Lane spoke about handling the pressures of grand final week and his side’s preparation leading into it.
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“It’s been a good week so far – we had a chartered flight back from North Queensland and had a few days to relax,” he said.
“We got the massage therapist to come to our houses, we got really looked after there. Yesterday [Monday] was a big day out at Kellyville with the fans and media.
“It’s pretty relaxing most of the time, but we got a pretty good taste of what it’s gonna be like on Sunday.
“We’ve only had one day at training and that was pretty chilled and just fun and soaking up the atmosphere, but I’m sure it will get a bit more intense as the week builds.
“Obviously it will be pretty difficult to go out in front of 80,000 roaring fans from western Sydney and maintain your cool completely.
“It will be pretty surreal, but I think everyone is pretty prepared and ready to go.”
Parramatta were defeated by Penrith in the first week of the finals, but their strong run into September allowed them a second chance at keeping their season alive after finishing in the top-four.
The side have since gone on to defeat both the Raiders and Cowboys to set up a massive decider with the 2021 premiers, which officially sold out on Tuesday.
The biggest task facing the Eels will be shutting down Cleary, who has been fantastic for the Panthers since returning from a five-week suspension.
Lane said it will be the job of the entire squad to make amends for their Week 1 effort on the NSW Origin playmaker and put plenty of pressure on him.
“If we do our job correctly, everyone is going to be a headache for Nathan Cleary,” Lane said.
“He’s obviously a huge part of their game plan and his kicking game speaks for itself. In the first game, we really struggled putting kick pressure on him and it came up with plenty of results for them.
“It will be a whole team focus for us. I don’t think it’s a secret – I think it’s every team’s game plan going up against Penrith.
“That’s a huge part of their strength of a team, how they play off the back of his kicking game and how much of a strength it is and all the opportunities it creates for them.
“The teams that execute their kick pressure effectively like Queensland were [in State of Origin], they are the ones that have the best success against him.”
Lane has emerged as one of Parramatta’s most important players this year, adding plenty of size and X-factor on the left-edge for the blue and gold.
The 27-year-old has produced seven try assists, 14 linebreak assists and 38 offloads this year, while his impressive work rate has seen him average 130 run metres and 29 tackles per game.
Lane is on the verge of signing a three-year contract extension with the Eels, and shut down suggestions that the club’s premiership window is closing with the departures of Reed Mahoney, Isaiah Papali’i and Marata Niukore.
“If you look at all those names you just mentioned, three years ago they weren’t the players they are now,” he said.
“They’ve come through the Parramatta system, they have been developed by the coaches and obviously they have put in a lot of work too.
“If you look at the ability of the coaching staff and the club itself to develop and manufacture players – and it hasn’t just been them, I’ve benefited massively from the same systems.
“I think that speaks to the strength of the club and if you want to judge us by a few players, I think that’s a bit short-sighted.”
Parramatta’s quest for their first title in 36 years will culminate on Sunday night at 7.30pm AEST.