Penrith Panthers vs Parramatta Eels; Reagan Campbell-Gillard bad blood with Panthers; Maika Sivo, Waqa Blake, news, updates – 21 Sports News

  • September 29, 2022

There’s a 36-year premiership drought on the line, but three Eels will be playing with extra motivation when they face the Panthers in the NRL grand final.
Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Waqa Blake and Maika Sivo were all released by the club they’ll meet at Accor Stadium on Sunday night.
The Panthers have established themselves as leaders when it comes to developing from within, sustaining their success in recent years by drawing on the next crop of young talent.
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But identifying talent is one thing, deciding who to keep and who to let go is another entirely.
Campbell-Gillard and Blake both departed for the Eels in 2019, following Sivo who made the same switch 12 months earlier.
All three were told their services were no required at the foot of the mountains in what proved three tumultuous departures.
The Penrith rejects have all starred at different times for Parramatta this season and they will all play at the World Cup next month.
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Panthers icon Scott Sattler admitted players always rise against their former clubs and is expecting the trio to come out breathing fire on Sunday.
“You always have more energy when you play against your old side because you’ve got something to prove,” Sattler told foxsports.com.au.
“Whether you’ve got doubters in that former club who feel as though you can’t play at big-game level or whatever their opinions are… there’s always that little bit of extra energy against them.”
Here foxsports.com.au breaks down the journey these three players took to face their former club in the 2022 NRL grand final.
REAGAN CAMPBELL-GILLARD
Campbell-Gillard’s departure from the Panthers in 2019 stunned the rugby league world as the local junior still had five years left on his $4 million plus deal.
The fact that the Panthers were willing to discard him so soon after signing would no doubt have stung.
“It was one of those years that I really want to forget, I really hated rugby league this year. It’s just been a frustrating year,” Campbell-Gillard famously said after leaving the club.
There was talk at the time about RCG’s attitude at Penrith and whether he was committed to giving as much as his teammates.
The messy exit saw him land at the Eels and the hulking front-rower eventually returned to career-best form.
RCG made his long-awaited return to the State of Origin arena this season, but after just one game for NSW he got dropped again.
The 29-year-old was hardly the Blues worst player when they were upset by the Maroons in game one in Sydney – but he was dropped from the squad entirely.
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The sensational decision from coach Brad Fittler fuelled speculation RCG was axed because of bad blood between with his former Penrith teammates in the NSW squad.
Campbell-Gillard this week poured cold water on the rift rumours, but NRL great James Graham wasn’t buying it.
“I can’t wait to see Reagan Campbell-Gillard, some people are shutting it down but there is obviously bad blood there,” Graham said on NRL 360.
“I’m even led to believe that Penrith are paying part of his wage to play for Parramatta, so can you imagine what’s going through his mind?
“It’s cost him a spot in Origin if rumours are to be believed, so this guy is going to be fired up for a huge game, I can’t wait to see that.”
RCG looms as one of Parramatta’s biggest danger men on Sunday night, fresh from his two tries and 137m in Townsville last week.
Sattler pointed out there’s a Kangaroos jersey on the line if RCG can produce his best against the club that released him.
“He’s been one of the best front rowers in the back half of this season. He’s playing for not only a premiership but for an Australian jersey as well,” Sattler told foxsports.com.au.
“So he’ll have a lot more energy and he goes for big minutes anyway but he’ll probably be able to go for a few more.”
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MAIKA SIVO
On the most part, Penrith has a proven track record of making the right calls in that regard.
You only have to look at the recent departures of Matt Burton for proof, with Izack Tago an immediate success story in the centres while Sean O’Sullivan has been a capable fill-in for Nathan Cleary.
Sure, O’Sullivan has been around the league for a long time now at multiple clubs but he started in the Penrith system and found his way back, just at the right time.
Sivo though is one that got away, although at the time the Panthers probably felt justified in their decision, with the Fijian winger still very much a raw prospect.
Sivo was first scouted playing rugby union in Fiji, then moving to Australia to play for the Gundagai Tigers in group nine before securing lower grade contracts with St Mary’s and Mounties.
He then won a reserve grade premiership in 2017 with the Panthers before the Eels identified him as potential replacement for Semi Radradra — and they have not looked back since.
Sivo was learning the game and his defence was a work-in-progress while ball-handling was another concern. Add in the fact that Penrith’s wing stocks were — and still are — stacked and it is hardly the oversight of the century.
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Although, as Fox League’s James Hooper reported, it was a shrewd move on Parramatta’s part at the time, seeing the potential in Sivo and signing him on a minimum wage contract.
It was worth $72,500 plus $3,000 for every NRL game Sivo played, which quickly started to add up as the Fijian flyer quickly established himself as one of the league’s most exciting wingers.
Sivo’s manager Cameron Phelps revealed the story of how he first came to meet the winger and eventually put him on the path to Parramatta.
“My final season as a player was for Mounties in the NSW Cup and it was there I met Maika,” Phelps told Wide World of Sportsthis week.
“I broke my jaw and retired and decided to try my hand at management. One of the first players I signed up was Maika – because I got to see first hand what a try-scoring weapon he was, even back then.
“He was the leading try-scorer in NSW Cup for Penrith in 2018 but for some reason they weren’t even interested in giving him a new deal.
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“Fortunately for us, Parramatta had had great success with another Fijian winger, Semi Radradra, and they were prepared to give him a chance – that’s all he needed.”
Sivo has gone on to play 82 games for the Eels, overcoming a torn ACL to return to his try-scoring form this year with scoring 13 tries, taking his career tally to 67.
WAQA BLAKE
Blake was another one of the early success stories to come from Penrith’s production system under Phil Gould’s watch and was part of the club’s education and welfare house parenting program as a teenager.
That came after Blake’s manager Sam Ayoub spotted him playing SG Ball for the Perth Pirates, quickly contacting Gould who agreed to sign the Fijian without even laying eyes on him.
He then continued to impress as he progressed through the grades, playing a crucial role in Penrith’s premiership-winning NYC side in 2013 before eventually making his way to the NRL.
Like Sivo, and really any young outside back learning how to play in the top grade, defensive decision-making and ball-handling were the biggest concerns.
But having been touted ‘the next Greg Inglis’ before he had even played an NRL game, Blake’s natural ability and evasive running saw him make an immediate impact and earn a four-year extension in 2018.
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Things quickly went downhill for Blake though, who was dropped by coach Ivan Cleary in May 2019 after missing a training session and then released just a month later.
Panthers CEO Brian Fletcher said while a “difficult decision”, moving Blake on was ultimately in the best interests of the club’s salary cap management.
While admitting it was “definitely a tough time”, Blake said in 2019 there was “no bad blood” between himself and Penrith in the wake of his exit.
“It was definitely a tough time for me and my family, but at the same time we were very excited for the new journey,” he said at the time, per Sporting News.
“There is no bad blood between me and Penrith, I will always have a soft spot for Penrith but right now I’m keen to pull on the blue and gold jersey and start playing.
“Ivan gave me my debut, I have learnt a lot from him when he was first there and then again when he came back. I’m grateful to him and the club.”
Blake has dramatically improved his defence in recent years since joining Parramatta, although he will once again be the victim of an aerial assault from Nathan Cleary on Sunday.
“After last game, it’s coming,” Blake said this week.
“So the challenge again is on me. We’ve be practising. The onus is just on me, I just got to catch it.”
THE LAST LAUGH
The discarded trio now all play crucial roles for the Eels and can get the last laugh on their former club by winning on Sunday night.
An upset victory would not only deliver the club its first premiership since 1986 but also deny the Panthers their place in history as one of the greatest teams of the modern era.
Parramatta great Nathan Hindmarsh said the rejection will play “in the back of their head” for all three players during the grand final.
“They’ll have a point to prove for sure, of course they will,” Hindmarsh told the Fox League Podcast.
“I dare say that will be a bit of their mindset leading into it – well this is the club I was at and wasn’t wanted for whatever reason, coming up against your former club there will always be that little bit of spite.
“It’s something they’ll use to motivate themselves even more.”
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