PENRITH, AUSTRALIA - JULY 13: Jarome Luai of the Panthers is tackled during the round 18 NRL match between the Panthers and the Sharks at Panthers Stadium on July 13, 2018 in Penrith, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

They sealed up the minor premiership weeks ago and have constantly showcased their depth of talent throughout the season, but according to the Penrith Panthers, despite the year gone by and their home ground advantage, they’ll head into Friday’s game against the Parramatta Eels as underdogs.

It’s no secret the Eels are the only team that Penrith haven’t beaten this year, frustrated by the Eels in their first meeting before being picked apart after Nathan Cleary was sent off in their second encounter of the season – the same offence that has kept the halfback from the field until this week.

Though Jarome Luai missed that second encounter through injury, he claims that the Eels’ record against the defending premiers should make them favourites by default – an unusual position that the five-eighth seems to be enjoying.

“With Parra beating us the last two times I think we’re the underdogs this week, which is pretty cool in itself,” Luai said.

“Finals football is a different breed. We’ve played in a lot of big games as a team now as well, so I think we can put whatever happened in the regular season behind us.”

Even two-time premiership winner Apisai Koroisau couldn’t pinpoint exactly where the Eels have been able to gain an advantage this year.

“They just play really well any time they come up against us,” Koroisau said.

“They’ve got a great forward pack, great backs too. One of their real dangers is the individuals in their team – they can come up with all the big plays and create something from nothing.”

But is there a plan? Has Koroisau been given tactical instructions? It doesn’t seem to matter thanks to the return of star halves duo Luai and Nathan Cleary. Koroisau couldn’t be happier they’re back.

“To be honest I don’t listen too much to the gameplan,” the No.9 joked.

“But Nathan’s such a great leader on and off the field. To have (the halves) back, the way they lead us around and know everyone’s roles, it’s like they haven’t even been gone.”

One of the Eels’ most dangerous weapons is Luai’s opposite number, Dylan Brown, and even Luai has to give credit where credit is due.

“He’s the best No.6 in the game at the moment,” Luai admitted.

“He’s one of their danger men and we need to keep a close eye on him if we want to win.”

While Luai is excited for the challenge of coming up against one of the competition’s form teams after such a long absence, he doesn’t buy the argument that it’s a battle of the halves – or that the Parramatta duo of Brown and Mitch Moses are the best in the competition.

“We’ll let the footy do the talking,” he smirked.

“I’m keen to go up against any good halves, but it’s a 13-on-13 contest out there on the field. We (the halves) just want to make our team the better team on the night.”