Parramatta were in a desperate position when they ran out onto the field at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night, following a crushing trio of losses to the Sharks, Bulldogs and Warriors in the wake of their second win of the season, over the Wests Tigers, in Round 9. To get their season back on track, and to avoid the sense of despair that characterised the first part of their year, they needed a decisive win, and yet with Brisbane seven spots above them on the ladder it was going to take a gutsy effort.
Add to that the fact that this was a home game at Suncorp, and Brisbane were unsurprisingly dominant over the first part of the match. About seven minutes in, the Eels actually received some good field position, and topped it off with a deft kick from Mitchell Moses, only for Jamayne Isaako to read the play perfectly, collecting the Steeden without a care to make it back to the field of play for a fresh set of six.
At the other end of the field, Isaako went from trysaver to tryscorer, outleaping Bevan French beneath a crossfield kick from Kodi Nikorima, bobbing the ball backwards in the process but recollecting it before it had a chance to make contact with the Parramatta winger’s body. From there, he made the most of a fractured blue and gold defence, scooting past Corey Norman at fullback to ground the footy right beside the posts with Cameron King on his back, and French rejoining the defensive effort at the last minute, in as frenetic a defensive line as can be imagined.
Slotting the conversion through the posts, Isaako added the extras as well, putting six points on the board for Brisbane that he’d orchestrated better than any of his other sequences of play so far this year. The Eels dug deep over the next few minutes, but with Michael Jennings sent off the field for a professional foul, the Broncos decided to tap and go against a twelve man team, gaining a further advantage when Mitchell Moses put in a high shot on Jordan Kahu one tackle later.
It was a bracing way for Kahu to test out how well his broken jaw had recovered, but the aggression didn’t do Parramatta any good, since Corey Oates crossed over in the left corner on the same set of six, thanks to a sequence of passes from Nikorima, Milford, Boyd and Kahu that forced the Eels to come out of their line, leaving George Jennings with an impossible defensive burden out on the right edge, where Oates’ effortless putdown felt as decisive and rousing for the Broncos as his tries always do.
All in all, though, Parramatta were probably lucky not to leak more points during Jennings’ absence, since this first set initially seemed to promise a cascade of Brisbane tries over the following ten minutes. In fact, Jennings himself was the next to crash over, shortly after he returned to the park, only for Joe Ofahengaue to take advantage of a loose carry to smash the ball out of Jenko’s arm as he was hanging, mid-air, on the verge of passing over the try line to put down the next four points.
In some ways that botched try from Jennings was more dispiriting than Oates’ earlier try – it was certainly more unusual – and the Eels struggled to regain some kind of cohesion and composure. Perversely, the return of one of their most reliable players had resulted in a missed try, making it even more frustrating when Jennings was thwarted once again a couple of sets later, after Parra got some good field position on the back of an overlong kick from Milford that granted them a seven tackle set.
Once again, Jennings was at the end of it all, only for Kahu to get in front of him for what was surely as much of an interference as the obstruction that had sent Jenko off in the first place. Whether or not the refs didn’t see it, or were taken in by Kahu’s impression of falling, was unclear, but the Eels didn’t get any more than possession, and had to dig deep to get Moses in place to orchestrate a goal line dropout, only for Peni Terepo to cough up the footy on the first tackle, in a moment of utter deflation.
Things got worse for the Eels as the siren approached, from a forward pass from Smith that ended with French being dragged into touch, to a double knock-back from the Broncos that saw Gutherson dragged into touch after him. Parramatta were probably lucky, then, to come away with a penalty goal out of it all, since for a moment there it looked almost inevitable that Brisbane would score a third try before they trotted into the sheds, so calm and clear was their control of the game.
No surprise, then, that the Broncos were the next to score when the players returned to the park, thanks to a beautiful bit of play from Kodi Nikorima, who drifted out to the right edge of the ruck and dummied enough to force Gutherson to commit to the tackle, before popping a short ball across to Jayden Su’A, who dodged past Manu Ma’u and Brad Takairangi to plunge into open space. Only Norman was in place to take a tackle, but the big forward chose just the right point to send it across to Roberts, who did what he does best, sprinting up the sideline to the right corner.
To respond, the Eels had to come up with something just as emphatic, and they got a lucky break ten minutes later, when George Jennings intercepted a Milford pass and slipped into open space himself. While Nikorima and Boyd tried to catch him, and Roberts burst over from the other side of the field, Jennings was simply too far ahead for even Jimmy the Jet to come close to making contact with him. The try was all the more momentum-shifting in that Milford’s offloads have been stellar over the last few weeks, making Moses’ initial tackle feel all the more tactical in retrospect.
The splendid spectacle of Jennings burning up the field utterly revitalized Parrramatta, who now proceeded to put in their single best set of the night, starting off a terrific period of position and field possession that nevertheless ended, once again, with an almost-try from Michael Jennings. Bursting through a tackle from Boyd, Jenko finally seemed to have his opportunity, only for Kahu to put in the trysaving tackle of the night to prevent him crossing over a third consecutive time.
If George Jennings’ run had seemed to change the narrative for the Eels, then Michael Jennings’ frustrated try made it feel like we’d returned to the main story of the game, and the Broncos seemed to feel the same, circling their wagons even as they were forced to face the loss of Roberts to a suspected Achilles complication. Still, a succession of penalties from Brisbane gave the Eels a bit more of an edge, although with the decision to shoot for penalty goal at the sixty-fifth minute rather than make a shot at a try, the blue and gold army remained a converted try behind.
Taking the two was a strange choice for a side that had only scored an intercept try, and an offload from Milford to Boyd on the next set set the stage for the first penalty to Brisbane since the thirteenth minute, after Takairangi came in off his line while contesting the football. With Isaako adding the two, the Eels were right back to where they started, which is presumably why they chose to tap and go when they received a penalty on their line, once again, with seven minutes left on the clock.
In yet another of the last-minute frustrations that had made this game so heartbreaking for the blue and gold, however, French crossed over following of a cut-out pass from Norman that was called back as forward, in what was probably the last genuine point-scoring opportunity for the Eels over these final minutes of the game. While the Broncos didn’t score again, they didn’t really need to, since only the freakish fortune of Jennings’ intercept had prevented them keeping Parra tryless.
It was sobering, then, to think that the last time the Eels trotted out onto the ground at Suncorp they’d scored fifty-two points. All they can do next week is to keep on digging deep when they take on the Knights at home, while Brisbane will be looking to get a good rest over the bye in order to take on the Storm at AAMI in Round 14.