The neighbours meet in the much anticipated derby in round one of the domestic rugby league competition today at The Swamp.
The Panthers are riding high after the recent Nines tournament win and they will use that as a morale booster for the opening round.
But coach Darren Piri said they would have to dig deeper in order to make a winning start to the 2019 season.
“It will be a tough game, it’s the first game of the season and everyone is looking forward to it,” Piri said.
“The Nines win was obviously a boost for us and gave the boys something to believe in and a bit of confidence before the start of the season proper and we are hoping to continue building from there.”
Last year, the Panthers were unstoppable. They were a class above the rest and the players to deliver the goods in the weekly competition.
But they have lost three key players Sam Mataora, Jamian Iroa and Rangi Piri to overseas clubs and the side will be relying on the other senior players to guide them through this season.
Coach Piri said getting all the players to training had been a challenge and they hope to build on their combination with some game time in the opening rounds of the competition.
“We have been training since the Nines competition but didn’t manage to have all players together. This week the training has been good,” he said.
“We are aware of the Eels and their expectations and we will do our best to overcome them. It’s going to be a cracker of a game.”
Eels new coach Meti Noovao, formerly of Titikaveka Bulldogs, said they were also looking forward to this clash.
Noovao said they were taking a realistic approach against the Panthers, knowing this is just the start of the season.
“There will definitely be a few rusty areas of the game obviously with fitness and other areas as this is the first game of the season,” Noovao said.
“We will try to get our basics right, play to the conditions and come out with the right answers in defence which is really important.
“We are expecting a really good game from Tupapa and we respect them. We just want to turn up with the right attitude and play good football that the Eels have been known for.”
In the other premier clashes, the Bulldogs will host Ngatangiia/Matavera Sea Eagles while Arorangi Bears will take on Takuvaine Warriors at the Happy Valley. All premier matches will start at 4.30pm.
4.30pm Premiers: Takuvaine Warriors-Arorangi Bears at Takuvaine field. Arorangi Bears Reserves on bye; 3pm Reserves – Avatiu Eels-Tupapa Panthers at Avatiu Swamp, 4.30pm Premiers –Avatiu Eels-Tupapa Panthers at Avatiu Swamp; 4.30pm Premier – Titikaveka Bulldogs-Ngatangiia/Matavera Sea Eagles at Titikaveka.