ROUND 6: Parramatta Eels v. Wests Tigers (Bankwest Stadium, 22/4/19)

Both the Eels and the Tigers were keen to set their stamp on the debut game at Bankwest Stadium when they met on Monday afternoon for the last match of Round 6. On the one hand, the Tigers were high on their unexpected win over the Broncos at Suncorp the week before, while the Eels were still smarting after having been kept tryless by Canberra at GIO Stadium. To make matters worse, Blake Ferguson had been ruled out a few hours before the game, robbing the blue and gold army of one of their best assets of 2019.

The desperation and pressure seemed to work to the Eels’ advantage, however, as they rolled out onto the park with more adrenalin than they’ve showed at any point this year, determined to claim their new home ground against the Tigers. As it turned out, it was a Tiger-turned-Eel who dominated the majority of the game, with Mitchell Moses scoring the first try, assisting the second try, and running rings around the Tigers with his most consistent and assured work with the boot all year.

Thirty seconds in, Daniel Alvaro crashed to ground following shoulder contact from Ryan Matterson. Despite the fact that Alvaro was taken off for an HIA – and wouldn’t return for the game – Matterson remained on the field, as Clint Gutherson clamoured for a sin bin, and Tim Mannah trotted out to replace his front rower. The pause just seemed to galvanise the Tigers, who resumed with an almost equally big tackle on Moses when the play continued, although it didn’t result in any points.

Perhaps this was the last straw for Moses, who started to consolidate from this point onwards, sending through a crossfield chip at the end of the next set. There was a momentary question of whether Brad Takairangi had gathered the ball and scored, but it turned out to be a knock-on in goal, gifting the Tigers a twenty metres restart. They didn’t do much with it, however, since Luke Brooks’ kick tumbled into touch at the end of the next set, getting the Eels a twenty metre restart of their own.

Full credit has to go to Moses for shepherding the footy into touch, as well as for his vision and organisation on the following set. For a moment, it looked as if Michael Jennings had crossed over for a try, but it was called back following a forward pass from Maka Sivo. Nevertheless, the Eels were starting to build momentum and apply pressure, while neither Moses nor Jennings would have to wait for very long to translate all their restless, roving energy into Bankwest points.

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Weirdly, the next error came from Moses, who knocked on four tackles into the next Parra set, on the back of a quick play-the-ball from Marata Niukore. This was the moment where the Eels’ energy and adrenalin could have consumed them, so the scrum feed provided them with a good option to take a breath and regroup. Luckily for them, the Tigers didn’t do much with the next set, as Mbye was cleaned up on the final tackle after trying to make a run out on the right edge.

This was the last straw for the Tigers, as the Eels now started a sublime sequence of tries that cemented Bankwest as their new home ground. The first stage came when Niukore found space on the right edge of the field, following an offload from Takairangi with three in the tackle. Following a low tackle from Luke Garner, Niukore’s head hit Mbye’s hip, making him the second Parramatta player to be send of the field with an HIA.

Yet this just seemed to galvanise the Eels further, resulting in a terrific last-tackle kick from Moses that forced Reynolds to bring his A-game to try and make his way back into the field of play, in his most Bulldogs-like effort since he left Belmore for the Tigers. In slow motion, you could see the same passion and energy driving Reynolds as when he played at Canterbury, but it wasn’t enough to defy an enormous run and tackle from Peni Terepo, resulting in a dropout for Parramatta.

Meanwhile, Robbie Farah was taken off for an HIA – the third player to be taken off in less than five minutes – and replaced with Michael Chee Kam, as Mbye shifted to the dummy half position. For a moment, the Eels seemed to have snuck a try in during this momentary reconfiguration, thanks to a harbor bridge pass from Reed Mahoney to Junior Paulo on the right edge, but it was called back as forward, making this a massive letoff for the Tiges, especially since Mahoney had enough time and space to do it right.

From there, a pair of forward passes got the football back to the Tigers, as Takairangi was now sent off the field for an injury, and the Eels got the news that Alvaro wouldn’t be returning for the night. Once again, however, this just seemed to motivate them further, condensing all their identity crises of the last couple of years into their determination to stamp Bankwest as their own once and for all. Finally, Gutherson got the opportunity they needed, waiting until the last millisecond for a Chee Kam grubber to bounce into touch, before bringing the ball back into play.

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This was the ultimate brinksmanship from Gutho, and it paid off, taking the Tigers by surprise as he went for a quick tap and sent the footy across to Moses. From there, Mitch got on the inside of Garner, outpaced Aloiai and then managed to slam the Steeden down in the corner before Reynolds could bump him into touch. It was an iconic moment, one that will come to define the Eels’ ownership of Bankwest and Moses’ own coming-of-age in Parra colours, as he put his rockier career at the Tigers further and further behind him with every step.

Not since Josh Mansour’s panther howl during the preliminary finals has there been such an exhilarating display of confidence from a tryscorer, and Moses followed it up with an effortless sideline conversion to bring the Eels to a six point lead. Moments later, Moses and Takairangi made good on their earlier combination, as Mitch followed up a repeat set with a crossfield chip to exactly the same part of the field where Takairangi had been denied during the opening minutes of the match.

This time, however, Takairangi was prepared, leaping up to catch the Steeden in both hands before grounding it, all in one elegant movement. Once again, Moses targeted the mismatch between Brooks and Takairangi, and by the time the Parramatta backliner had got in the air he was about a metre and a half above Brooks, gathering all the blue and gold energy into a soaring play that had more in common with basketball than rugby league, before Moses booted through two more points.

If that wasn’t good enough for the Eels, Jennings now racked up a double on the back of yet another repeat set. The first time, he simply wove his way through the defence from about fifteen metres out, changing directions so effortlessly and elusively that he seemed to defy the entire Wests Tigers’ defence, with Mbye and Twal taking the brunt of his run. Once again, Moses added the extras, right in front of the posts, to put Parramatta 18-0 ahead, as the visitors found out that Farah had failed his HIA, and wouldn’t be returning to the park that evening.

The Tigers were now without both Benji and Robbie, meaning that Brooks and Reynolds had to do some heavy lifting to start working their way back against such a dominant Parramatta outfit. For the moment, however, they were exhausted, allowing Gutherson to break through the line, where he got the ball across to Jennings. By the time he came up around the posts, Jenko was barely jogging, setting up Moses for yet another effortless conversion.

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By the time that Shaun Broke through the line and popped the footy back inside to Salmon to score, this was indeed starting to seem like Parradise, as the Eels rocketed up to 0-30. They couldn’t have asked for a better start at Bankwest, since this was already feeling like a historic game, and a pivotal match for Moses in particular. While Ben Matulino would score once before the siren, it already felt like a consolation try, so thoroughly had Parramatta already decimated everything the Tigers had tried.

For a moment, the opening minutes of the second stanza looked promising for the Tigers, as Reynolds, Matterson and Fonua combined for a trio of silky passes, and an average kick from Mbye led to a superb harbor bridge effort from Brooks to Jennings in the left corner. While Jennings might have bombed the kick, Gutherson was pinged for a dangerous tackle, gifting the Tigers another shot at their line.

Not only did the Tigers fail to score here, but they let through another Parramatta try a few minutes later. Once again Moses was the assister and key organizer, sending a short ball across to Oregon Kaufusi, who ran a hard line on his inside to slam through the defence as if they weren’t even there. Yet another kick from Moses saw Mahoney crash over a few minutes later, after Takairangi popped the footy backwards, bringing the Eels to a staggering 42-6 once Moses had added the extras.

By this stage, the game was starting to feel pretty surreal, since it was clear that the Eels were going to keep scoring and scoring if the Tigers didn’t do something drastic to stop them. At the same time, the Tiges were now so far behind that they didn’t have any real chance of winning, making it doubly important – but also doubly difficult – for them to start playing for pride during this last thirty minutes.

Still, the tries kept coming from the Eels. A few sets later, Lane stuck a foot over the sideline and caught the ball on the full, laying the platform for Gutherson to send a wide pass to Sivo on the right edge. From there, Sivo headed for the corner, only to pivot back inside to dodge Fonua, where he got on the inside of Marsters to slam down another four points. While Moses might have missed his first conversion, Lane scored again shortly after, thanks to a deft assist from Salmon on the left edge.

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While the Tigers would keep the Eels from scoring a try during the last part of the game, they came away with a whopping 51-6 scoreline once Moses booted through the first field goal at Bankwest in the final minute, as Matulino’s four points did indeed turn out to be the visitors’ one and only consolation try. With Brooks booting the ball out on the full three minutes out from the end, it was a relief for the Tiges when the final siren blew out. Farah and Benji can’t return soon enough, even if the early stages of the match gave Reynolds his first chance to really roar in black and gold as well.

On the other side of the Steeden, this was a truly stunning effort for the Eels, and a pivotal game in Mitchell Moses’ career – all the more incredible in Blake Ferguson’s absence. It seems almost impossible to believe that they’ll lose when they take on the Knights in Newcastle in Round 7 – they scored enough tries here for a handful of games – while the Tigers will be desperate to put down a solid string of points when they host the Titans at Scully Park on Saturdat afternoon.

About Billy Stevenson (488 Articles)
Massive NRL fan, passionate Wests Tigers supporter with a soft spot for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and a big follower of US sports as well.

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