Jarome Luai's sledge for Parramatta Eels ahead of NRL grand final

Jarome Luai poses for a photo with Penrith Panthers fans.
Jarome Luai says the Penrith Panthers have supplanted the Parramatta Eels as the premier NRL club in western Sydney. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Panthers star Jarome Luai says there's no doubt Penrith rules the roost in the rugby league heartland of western Sydney as the city prepares for a huge grand final showdown.

Luai told the Sydney Morning Herald that 'you can call us daddy' when asked who was the dominant club in the west, challenging decades of prior junior dominance from the Eels.

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Though Parramatta have historically been able to count on their talented juniors coming through to the senior side, Luai's incendiary comment wasn't made flippantly.

The Panther could become the first club in rugby league history to win premierships in all four grades should they manage to topple the Eels on Sunday evening.

With the SG Ball, Jersey Flegg and NSW Cup trophies already taking pride of place at Penrith in 2022, the club has a chance to do something no other club has accomplished in 113 years.

Penrith's senior side is jam-packed with players who have progressed through their junior ranks, including skipper Nathan Cleary and Taylan May.

Some 14 of the 17 players selected for Penrith on Sunday debuted in the NRL for the Panthers, in stark contrast to the Eels.

Parramatta boast six former club juniors in the grand final side, however only three of those got their NRL star with the club.

"We're both western Sydney, but our team has been together for a long time and played a lot of footy together," Luai said.

"I think we're home-grown. We represent our people. Western Sydney is our home. Every time we put this jersey on we represent our home.

"We just want to compare ourselves to the best. It's an awesome feeling when you've come through the grades and make your mark on the biggest stage."

Luai wasn't the only Panther to make the bold claim, with winger Brian To'o also convinced times had changed in Western Sydney.

The Panthers have won a scarcely believable 66 of 78 matches over the past three NRL season, a record any club would be envious of.

"Things have changed,"To'o said.

"There aren't that many kids coming through the Parramatta system that are from the west. The majority of the people that are in the Parramatta team come from other countries or other parts of NSW ... or even Penrith.

"It's pretty cool to see how many of us Penrith juniors have come through the lower grades up to the big leagues.

"It's pretty special to see like Taylan May and Izack Tago come through this year."

Parramatta DNA behind Penrith's junior grades revival

Even the higher-ups at Penrith will admit their goal had been to beat Parramatta at their own game by strengthening their junior system over the past decade.

Panthers coach Brian Smith sees more than just a hint of Parramatta DNA in Penrith's looming NRL dynasty.

In fact, the former decade-long Eels coach knows too well that the Panthers' current reality was once a Parramatta vision that never truly got the ultimate reward.

"What (Matt Cameron) would say to me is that it was just a copy-and-paste job," Smith told AAP.

"There's no need to complicate it."

Cameron is Penrith's CEO of football, and the man some consider to be Phil Gould's greatest signing when Panthers supremo.

But for 15 years before that, Cameron was one of the men trying to end Parramatta's long premiership drought.

Penrith Panthers players are pictured during a training session ahead of the 2022 NRL grand final.
The Penrith Panthers freely admit they looked to follow Parramatta's lead in ensuring the strength of their junior grades to bolster their NRL hopes. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

An assistant coach in the under-16s Harold Matthews set up when Smith arrived at the Eels at the end of 1996, Cameron spent most of his time working in the Eels' junior pathways.

The much-talked about Penrith player production line that is the envy of every club is the exact thing Cameron attempted to set up at the Eels.

In Smith's time at the Eels, Parramatta won a total of nine NSWRL club championships, demonstrating their success from under-16s through to reserve grade.

At Penrith that dominance is being replicated and then some ahead of the Panthers' third straight NRL grand final and possible premiership defence.

A strong mutual respect remains between Smith and other former Eels staff at the Panthers, with insiders happy to point out the striking similarities in systems.

"It was more than the winning thing (about the pathways)," Smith said.

"When I first got there, on the food-chain of coaching, Matty was on the bottom.

"So if you want a person who understands the history and how to develop a club, coaches, assistant coaches and finally players, Matty has seen it all.

"Phil Gould knew what he was getting when he took him to Penrith."

With AAP

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