ROUND 8: Parramatta Eels v. St. George-Illawarra Dragons (Bankwest Stadium, 5/5/19)

The Eels were keen to tap into their stunning win over the Wests Tigers when they hosted their second game at Bankwest Stadium on Sunday afternoon, while the Dragons were raring to come back from a disappointing ANZAC Day loss to the Roosters last week at the SCG. Parramatta also had a point to prove after going down to the Knights in Newcastle, and applied some heavy pressure during the opening sets, forcing the first error of the night from Mikaele Ravalawa.

A penalty from Cameron McInnes for a slow peel followed, and the set ended with a good kick from Mitchell Moses, but the pickup from Ben Hunt was just as good, forcing the Eels to keep digging for opening points. Twelve minutes in, they came up with another great defensive set, managing to keep the Dragons within their thirty by the last kick, which Corey Norman only just managed to get to the halfway line.

It wasn’t Norman’s fault, however, since Tepai Moeroa had come in for a dangerous tackle, aiming his arms at Norman’s waist, but ending up wrapping them around the ex-Eel’s legs while he was still in the air. Parramatta regrouped pretty quickly, however, with Clint Gutherson preventing a try on the third tackle, before Zac Lomax threw an unnecessary pass on the right side of the field and gave away St. George’s momentum during their most promising attacking set of the afternoon so far.

Early in the next set, the Eels made their first handling error, and St. George got the football again, but it came to nothing after Brad Takairangi cleaned up a crossfield kick from Hunt without much effort. So far, the game had been a bit drab, with both teams trying and failing to make a dent on the scoreline, so it was starting to feel like a big burst of energy was needed from one team for the crucial set – or crucial run – required to give the match some shape.

For a moment, it looked like the Dragons would consolidate after Jacob Host broke through the line, and Blake Ferguson tried to intercept a pass from Norman to Pereira, only to knock it on instead of putting down the first Parramatta points of the afternoon. The Red V now got a slow peel from Daniel Alvaro right in front of the posts, but they chose safety first, and Lomax slotted through a penalty goal, instead of taking another shot at the line.

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St. George lost some rhythm from here, as Hunt just missed a 40/20 on the restart and Norman took out his mounting frustration with a shoulder charge a couple of tackles into the next set. It was exactly the right moment, then, for Tyson Frizell to return after having been off for an HIA and eye examination earlier in the game, and his energy helped his team get back into gear. Shortly after, they got another penalty on the Parra line – a slow peel from Moeroa – and this time they chose to tap and go.

At the end of the set, Norman’s kick almost got Frizell the first try, but the ball came off the upright and allowed Jaemon Salmon to momentarily bring it back in field, only for a pack effort from the St. George defence to drag him behind the posts. A skip and pass from Hunt almost sent Lomax across on the second tackle of the dropout, but Gutherson did a sterling job as the last line of defence, holding up the young backliner after he’d barged his way through several Parramatta players.

Nevertheless, Hunt’s momentum paid off, as McInnes collected the footy quickly out of dummy half, sand howed it briefly to the left, before threading it through the line, depending on Hunt to slam forward, gather it into his chest, and get it to ground. While McInnes had been the assister, the entire sequence had been bookended by Hunt’s presence of mind, giving the Dragons a burst of confidence as Lomax booted through the extras to put them eight points ahead.

Ferguson now responded with his best run of the night, but capped it off with the most awkward pass of the night so far from the Parramatta side. While Moses managed to clean it up, he made a howler of his own at the end of the set – a falcon that bounced straight off Oregon Kaufusi’s head and straight back into the Dragons’ hands. A set later, the visitors responded with the best team try of the year so far – a trio of offloads that saw them travel seventy metres on the first tackle.

The play started with Matt Dufty cleaning up the high ball on the right edge of the field and sending it across to Ravalawa, who could have run straight, or taken the tackle then and there, but instead drifted across to the left edge, where he offloaded to Pereira. Accelerating as he caught the footy, Pereira fended off Ferguson before popping it out to Lafai, who managed a one-handed pass that turned Gutherson inside out, and saw Dufty bookend the play by scoring another four points.

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Dufty had now scored in three successive games for the first time in his career, while the Dragons had synced more elegantly and effortlessly than at any point this year. It wasn’t just the strength or the speed of these playmakers that was so impressive, but their initiative in keeping the play going, since any one of them could conceivably have taken the tackle, and allowed the next set of players to continue from there.

The Eels needed to respond quickly and clinically, and they did so spectacularly, with a pair of tries just before and after the half time siren. The first came off an error from Frizell, and saw Mahoney get to ground beneath Leilua and McInnes, proving that he could show as much tryscoring vision out of dummy half as the St. George hooker. The second try came from Gutherson, who scooted out of dummy half, got past Latimore, and ran seventy metres to score untouched, bringing Parra to a mere two point deficit once Moses booted through his second conversion of the night.

They didn’t take long to score again either, as Maika Sivo crashed over on the restart, putting them ahead for the first time in the game. This time, Gutho was the assister, collecting the high ball and popping it across to his winger, who scooted past Lomax, danced over a low tackle from Hunt, and then muscled his way around Dufty right on the line, for a run and putdown that was worthy of Semi Radrada. Improbable as it might have seemed in the opening half of the game, the Eels had tapped into the incredible dynamism of their game against the Tigers, and were riding high on their second seventy metre try in a mere matter of minutes.

Just as it was paramount that the Eels scored following the Dragons’ team try, now it was critical that St. George put down the next points to avoid losing control of the game. They got their chance a few sets later, when a kick from Tariq Sims seemed to have gone too far, only for the replay to show that Shaun Lane had helped it into touch at the very last moment. This was one of the most important calls of the night for the Dragons, since it resulted in their next points, which once again came off some deft timing and vision from Hunt.

This time, the ex-Bronco found himself on the right edge of the field, where he made the slightest of signals that he was going to kick, only to pop a cut-out pass to Norman, who managed to shift the footy across to Ravalawa before he was utterly smashed by Sivo. While Ravalawa got the four points, Norman was sent off the field was a cheekbone injury, and wouldn’t return for the game, meaning that the Red V were now without both their star second-rower and five-eighth, since Frizell’s eye injury had flared up again in the second stanza too.

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With Lomax missing the conversion, and Moses adding two points after a penalty from Leilua, the Eels remained two points ahead as the final quarter of the game got under way. They were the next to score, too, thanks to a crossfield kick that Ferguson and Pereira contested in the air on the right side of the field. Contest is perhaps not the right word, however, since Fergo prevented Pereira even getting a hand to the Steeden, popping it backwards before balancing it on his right hand, gathering it into his chest, and then slamming it down with his left.

As Ferguson’s first try at Bankwest, this felt like a continuation of the Eels’ win two weeks before – the try he would have scored if he’d been fit to play the Tigers – especially once he did a backwards somersault to celebrate what felt like the match-winning four-pointer for Parramatta. Once again, Moses added the extras, putting the Eels eight points ahead, as St. George started to implode, losing their focus and dynamism as the blue and gold army doubled down on their defence.

Conversely, by the time that Sivo burst through the line eight minutes out from the end, on the back of a deft pass from Michael Jennings, the Dragons barely seemed to be defending, exhausted by how rapidly the Eels had accelerated over the second stanza. They’ll be looking for a big comeback, then, when they take on the Warriors at Suncorp for Magic Round, while the Eels will be keen to draw on these two Bankwest wins when they meet the Storm for the first time in 2019.

About Billy Stevenson (489 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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