The fierce battle between the town teams ultimately ended in a 14-all draw after a scintillating 80 minutes of hard-hitting rugby league in the feature match of round five at The Swamp.
Brothers Darren and Terry Piri, coaching the Panthers and the Eels respectively, headlined the brotherly battle, which also featured Fijian siblings Lai Rogorogoivalu (Eels) and Jovilisi Naqitawa (Panthers).
These family connections did nothing to dampen the rivalry between the two teams however, who both brought their top game in the battle for top place on the points table.
Despite an early lead by the Eels, Panthers managed to fight back to level terms in a fiery end to the clash.
The hosts were clearly the better of the two sides in the opening half, mounting up pressure and creating opportunities to score two tries for a 10-0 lead at the break.
The Panthers were caught backpedalling but defended valiantly to avoid a bigger scoreline in the first half.
A strong pep talk from their coach Darren saw Panthers return much more organised in the second spell and, after conceding the third try in the match, they hit back in spectacular fashion.
Tries from Teina Savage, Othiniel Joseph and Eddie Nicholas ensured that the visitors maintained their unbeaten run intact with a 14-all draw.
“The message at the halftime was very clear,” said Panthers coach Darren. “I told the boys that we haven’t played rugby yet. We were just defending and giving away easy balls.
“But hats off to the boys, they fought back in the second half. It was up to them individually to pull their socks up and get the job done.
“I’m not saying that Avatiu is unbeatable. They are a great team and hats off to them for coming out firing at the start. We lapsed at the start of the game.”
Former Eels mentor and senior player Clive Nicholas said they let themselves down after allowing the Panthers to crawl back into the game.
“We are disappointed but it’s still early days. We got a lot to learn from this game. We were high in the first half and instead of keeping the foot on the paddle, we lost the momentum and allowed them to come back into the game,” Nicholas said.
“Tupapa played well in the second half – they won the second half and we won the first half and in the end it was a draw, which is better than a loss.”
In the other premier matches over the weekend, Ngatangiia Matavera Sea Eagles defeated Aitutaki Sharks 28-20 on Friday, while Titikaveka Bulldogs overcame TKV Warriors 24-22 in a close tussle on Saturday.
Premier: Sea Eagles 28 v Sharks 20, Eels 14 v Panthers 14, Bulldogs 24 v Warriors 22. Reserves: Eels 32 v Panthers 16. U19: Bears 28 v Bulldogs 8.