The crunch match held at the BCI Stadium saw both teams come out strong against each other but an early lead by the Panthers proved too much for the Eels at the end.
Despite the loss, the Eels still have a chance to make the grand finale. They will face the winner of today’s Titikaveka Bulldogs versus the Ngatangiia Matavera Sea Eagles match, in the semi-final next weekend.
Defending champions the Bulldogs will march into today’s battle as the favourites, but Sea Eagles’ form, especially in the second round of the competition, should cause them some worry.
Bulldogs coach Meti Noovao said the playoff round was a different ball game, adding no team can be underestimated in the knockout competition.
He said it was all about performing the best to ensure they remain in the hunt for the title.
“There is no room for mistakes here. It’s about doing the basics right, maintaining the discipline, completing the sets and making the tackles count,” Noovao said.
“Sea Eagles will also be looking at ensuring they do all of them right so it’s a matter of who does it better.”
The Bulldogs and Sea Eagles met twice this season, with both sides managing a win each.
Noovao said the past results would not count for much in today’s match, adding that it might give them an edge in their mental play ahead of their third encounter.
“The last match (last week) was a pretty close one. It was the last match of the round and surely an important one, but that win doesn’t carry much into this match (today),” he said.
“It will be more about the attitude and discipline of the players on the game day. It (the earlier wins) might have a slight advantage in the mental side of play, but then the onus will be on the players on the game day.”
Bulldogs missed some key players in their last couple of matches and Noovao said most of them were fit to make their return.
“We have prepared the team keeping in mind who we have got available for this match.
“We are looking forward to this match. I have a lot of respect for Bobby Hansen and his boys and we know they will come out strong as well.”