Having jumped out to a 14-0 lead in quick time on a hot afternoon at Panthers Stadium, the Parramatta Eels and head coach Brad Arthur will be left questioning just how the second half managed to go so wrong and two points slip through their fingers.
The Panthers, shuffled around from the program listing midweek with Vili Kikau dropping back to the bench alongside Kangaroos prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Moses Leota thrust into the starting XIII, looked a different side in the second half, scoring 24 unanswered points in a big win.
1 Big Billy Kikau is a force of nature
No one has ever doubted the size, strength or speed of Viliame 'Bill' Kikau but today in a strong performance against the Eels he managed to combine all of his raw natural talents with good, smart ball handling and a workhorse effort worthy of note.
Kikau combined five tackle breaks, 77 metres from nine runs, 16 tackles, one linebreak and a try in a breakout performance for the young Fijian.
Slotted back to the bench despite being named as a starter midweek, Kikau was also instrumental in closing down Parramatta's attack on the Panther's left edge which had looked vulnerable at times during the first half.
Experts have longed tipped Kikau for big things and the first game of 2018 looks to be a great step in the right direction for the big kid nicknamed Bill.
2 Hayne struggles for significant impact on Parramatta return
Once touted as the prodigal son out Parramatta way, there were plenty of concerns surrounding Jarryd Hayne's return to the Eels and while he showed some decent flashes of the great player he once was, there were long passages of play where the former New South Wales Blues star struggled to impact the game.
In fairness to Hayne, the heat was draining out west and once the Panthers got a roll on in the second half, few things went right for the blue and gold faithful and most of their stars couldn't lift and swing momentum back in their favour.
3 The West Is Ours: Penrith hold bragging rights in Sydney's wild west
It's no secret that there's little love lost between near neighbours Penrith and Parramatta from the fans in the stands to players on the paddock and round one proved nothing less than the latest addition to a long-running feud between the two western Sydney clubs.
Penrith will hold the bragging rights for now, but the same two sides will meet again just down the road at ANZ Stadium in Round 5 handing the Eels a chance at revenge or the Panthers an early chance to clean-sweep Parramatta.
When he was a Panther long ago, Michael Jennings once said he didn't hate the Parramatta players, but he hated what they stood for. Now an Eel, it's a quote that constantly resurfaces this time of year and adds a little fuel to an already raging fire.
4 Physicality the order of the day
As with any rivalry, plenty of this edition of the Battle of the West was fought out in the middle third of the park.
In sapping heat the two forward packs swung punches like tired prizefighters for the full 80 minutes but it was the younger, more versatile Panthers pack which had the knockout blow to seal the deal and end Round 1 with the points.
Tim Mannah, Beau Scott and the rest of the Eels pack started well and fought admirably but it was the speed and power of young forwards like Bill Kikau, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Moses Leota and Isaah Yeo that earned the chocolates for the licorice all-sorts on the day.
Credit must also go to Penrith captain Peter Wallace who churned his way through a typical mountain of work chopping down bigger guys through the middle of the ruck across a Herculean performance.
5 Sixes and sevens hold the key for both sides
While the Panthers churned out a win off the back of a good forward-led performance, the deft touch and guile of 20-year-old halfback Nathan Cleary and veteran five-eighth James Maloney were on show and will doubtless prove vital moving forward for Anthony Griffin's side.
On the other side of the park, Corey Norman played a key role in all the good things Parramatta did during the first half before he found himself restrained with a diminished platform during the second as the Panthers won the yardage game.
Mitchell Moses struggled to have a significant impact and actually found himself sin-binned at one point, but it will be how quickly he and Norman find their rhythm that holds the key for the Eels in much the same way that Cleary and Maloney's adaptability will be vital for the Panthers in the coming weeks before these two rivals clash again.
Penrith Panthers vs Parramatta Eels - Round One 2018 Highlights
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