Parramatta coach Brad Arthur says undefeated Penrith are flying under the NRL radar heading into Friday’s western Sydney showdown at Bankwest Stadium.
The competition leaders go into round five having sat on top of the ladder for three-consecutive weeks – the first time since 2001.
It’s also the first time since 1989 they have started a season with four-straight wins.
And while the plaudits are rolling in for Arthur’s men, he’s wary of the youthful Panthers.
“I know there’s a fair bit of talk about us but they’re flying under the radar a bit as well because, statistically, they’re up there with a lot of the key stats and doing a really good job,” Arthur said on Thursday.
“They’ve beaten the Roosters, Newcastle are going well, so their form indicators are really strong.
“They’re playing some good football and they’ll get their game controller man back, so their game management is going to be better.”
The Panthers are first in the competition for post-contact metres through their powerful forwards, and first for all metres across four games – above the Eels, Sydney Roosters and Newcastle.
Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary returns from a two-match suspension for breaching social-distancing laws in April, while the Eels welcome back Nathan Brown.
The enforcer has also been suspended for two weeks for dangerous contact on Gold Coast’s Dale Copley in round two and is itching to play again.
However, Arthur has warned Brown to keep his excitement in check, because his aggression has bubbled over in the past.
“I can’t wait for him to get on the field because he’s annoying,” Arthur said.
“He’s just going to have to make sure he curbs that excitement that he’s got because he’s keen to get out there and make it up to the boys for missing those rounds through suspension.
The match will also mark Penrith skipper James Tamou’s 250th NRL game.
Coach Ivan Cleary said while the 32-year-old was a reluctant and shy leader at first, he had grown in confidence as captain.
“He’s an incredibly well respected, not just player, but person,” Cleary said on Thursday.
“Initially, when he was given the captaincy, he was probably a little shocked and he really had to dig deep to find the qualities that he needed to show on a daily basis.
“He’s done really well to a point now where it’s much more natural for him.”
STATS THAT MATTER:
* Parramatta have started a season 5-0 just twice – winning the competition each time (1983, 1986)
* Penrith have gone undefeated through five games to open a season only once – their 1991 premiership triumph
* Recent history suggests a tight finish. Since 2015, all nine games have been decided by 10 points or less – seven of those by a converted try or less.