Parramatta will go into Sunday night’s NRL Grand Final against Penrith with one major disadvantage facing them.
Due to the dominance of the Panthers over the past three years, the reigning premiers will go into the game with 13 players that have previously featured in at least one grand final.
In fact, there will still be 11 players from Penrith’s 2020 grand final defeat to Melbourne that will line up against the Eels, giving them a distinct edge in regards to the experience in October footy.
On the flip side, Parramatta will go into the match with just two players with previous grand final experience.
Ryan Matterson played for the Roosters in their 2018 title victory, while Bailey Simonsson lined up for the Raiders in their 2019 loss to the Tricolours.
The likes of Junior Paulo and Reagan Campbell-Gillard have experience in the State of Origin arena, but lining up in a grand final is a different kind of pressure.
Speaking on SEN Breakfast With Vossy and Brandy, Eels skipper Clint Gutherson admitted the nerves were already kicking in as he leads his side into unknown territory.
“You are obviously going to get nervous,” he said.
“I’m not going to lie, a couple of days after the [prelim final] game on the weekend, I started thinking about it and taking it all in.
“I think you have to – there’s only two of the boys that have been this far before with Matto and Simmo. We’ve been playing footy for a long time, a lot of the boys have played representative games.
“We hadn’t even got to last week either – we just tried to keep it as normal as possible, but it goes to another level this week.
“You’ve just got to enjoy it, a lot of the boys that have been there before from previous teams have sent me a message and just said to enjoy the week.
“If you try to read into it too much, it will take a toll on you.”
Parramatta’s 2022 situation has a similar feel to what the Panthers faced two years ago against the Storm.
On that night, where the Panthers were outclassed by a far more experienced grand final outfit, only four players – James Tamou, Api Koroisau, Zane Tetevano and Kurt Capewell – had played in a match of that magnitude.
Heading into Sunday night’s sold out game at Accor Stadium, the similarities between 2022 and 2020 aren’t the only ones that the Eels and Panthers have, as both sides will go into the grand final with full knowledge that some of their most important stars will be moving on.
Parramatta will lose Isaiah Papali’i, Reed Mahoney and Marata Niukore at seasons’s end, while the Panthers will say goodbye to Viliame Kikau and Api Koroisau.
“There’s a lot of boys moving on,” Gutherson said.
“They will be thinking the same, they are losing the likes of Kikau and a few others as well. Both teams are going to be thinking the same.
“We spoke about it after the first Penrith game, we didn’t play the footy anywhere near the level we wanted to play.
“We’ve got to go out there, have no regrets on the footy we play and since then we have been playing close to the footy we want to.
“It goes to another level this week against a team that has been at the top for a long time.”
Gutherson is going to find himself in deep waters against the Panthers, and could be subject to some towering Nathan Cleary bombs throughout the night.
But if the Eels can cause an upset and bring home the premiership for the first time in 36 years, Gutherson has already visualised what that could look like.
“To be honest, I have [thought about it] – you always have these visualisations about where you want to go, not just in the game but into the future,” he said.
“Before every year, you sit down and write goals and you always want to achieve those goals, and this is always one of them…but you’ve got to be able to put that to the side and put in a great performance.
“We saw on Monday the type of support we have at the moment, we had 5,000 at our training session. We saw at the leagues club after the game, people were burning things and got drums and jumping around – it’s great for the game.
“It’s the heartland of rugby league out here, it’s going to be chaos out here all week and you wouldn’t want it any other way for the grand final.”