ROUND 12: Parramatta Eels v. South Sydney Rabbitohs (Bankwest Stadium, 31/5/19)
The Eels came away with a rousing win over South Sydney at Bankwest on Friday night, taking advantage of the absence of Cody Walker, Damien Cook and Cameron Murray for Origin to put down one of their best new home ground performances to date. The Bunnies got the first penalty, after Reed Mahoney was called offside, but Junior Paulo and Tepai Moeroa forced a handling error from George Burgess immediately after. From there, Adam Reynolds only just managed to bring a Mitchell Moses kick back into play, setting the stage for the battle of the halfbacks that would determine the game.
It was a good start for Parramatta after their nightmare match against Penrith the week before, and they got their first big tryscoring opportunity on their next set, with a rapid play to the right that came to an abrupt end when Clint Gutherson sent the Steeden over the sideline, instead of finding Blake Ferguson on the wing. Parra got a another blow to their momentum shortly after, when Paulo left the park for an HIA following a combined tackle with Mahoney, who was lucky not to have been sent off for a test himself.
An intercept from Michael Jennings two tackles into the next South Sydney set got the Eels back down the other end of the field pretty quickly, where they received their first penalty of the night off a slow peel from John Sutton. Yet Moses ended it all with an underwhelming kick that Connor Tracey cleaned up without any trouble, while a lost ball from Shaun Lane on the next blue and gold set compounded the home team’s deceleration from their splendid opening energy.
Maika Sivo now tried to shift the moment by intercepting a Reynolds pass that sailed through Sam Burgess’ hands, but was pinged for a knock-on as he tried to steer the footy away from Corey Allan. It was a frustrating call for the home crowd, since the replay showed that Sivo hadn’t actually made contact with the football, and was in prime position to dash away from the South Sydney pack, and score an intercept try beneath the posts, when the whistle blew out.
Manu Ma’u now took out his team’s frustration with a dangerous tackle on Sam Burgess, although once again the replay suggested that Parra might have been a bit hard done by here. In any case, the Bunnies had taken control of the rhythm again, and put the first points on the scoreboard when Reynolds took a penalty kick after some crowding from Moeroa right in front of the posts.Embed from Getty Images
Reynolds’ boot also paid dividends a few sets later, when the best kick of the night so far – a towering, floating bomb – saw Sivo spill the ball backwards, allowing the Bunnies to get right up in the Eels’ face and exert some severe pressure for their next period of attack. Too much pressure, as it turned out, as Reynolds undercut his splendid kick with a slow peel, but still Parra didn’t make the most of their augmented field position, with Moses unable to ground his own grubber on the last play.
The Rabbitohs now enjoyed a sustained stint on the Eels’ line, thanks to a pair of ball strips from Moeroa and Gutherson, a knock-on from Will Smith, and then the first dropout of the night after Jennings was forced to punch a Reynolds kick into touch. Amazingly, Ma’u made a one-on-one strip on the very first tackle, but Parra couldn’t capitalise on this sudden shift in fortune, as Moses made another poor kick, booting the footy at an awkward angle to Ferguson, who couldn’t secure it in the air.
Nevertheless, a forward pass from Billy Brittain got the ball back, while an offside penalty from Brittain set up Moses to level the score with a penalty kick. After such a long stalemate, something had to give, and the tipping-point turned out to be an error from Campbell Graham half an hour in, gifting Parra the field position they needed for their first pair of tries. At the end of the next set, Moses finally got the kick right, slotting through an eight-metre grubber that sat up perfectly for Gutherson to gather, ground and score right beside the posts.
This marked the start of one of Moses’ best periods of leadership with the boot so far this year, despite a rocky opening half hour. Parra looked dangerous on their next set, thanks to a pair of big runs from Moses and Jennings, but it would take them one more set for them to make it a double, even if the speed of these two tries – especially compared to the opening of the match – effectively made it feel as if they’d scored back-to-back.
Once again, Moses was the assister, choosing to run the footy, as he dummied and got on the outside of Sutton to break through the line. For a moment, he seemed as if he was going to take a shot at scoring himself, before opting for a no-look offload that allowed Ferguson to step back into the spotlight in the most spectacular way. The bounce was bad, and the pressure was extreme, but Fergo still chose to wait for the Steeden to make contact with the turf a second time before securing it.Embed from Getty Images
Having mitigated the risk of a knock-on, Ferguson now gathered the footy under his arm and slammed through Ethan Lowe and Campbell Graham to score the next Parramatta try. The combination of delicate patience and brute strength made this a definitive comeback for Ferguson, producing a surge of confidence for the team after their star recruit’s drop in form over the last few weeks. It was also a good strut for Ferguson after being excluded as Blues winger, not unlike the Origin-worthy games that DCE put down after being left out of the Maroons for the first two games last year.
It was obviously a big psychological advantage for the Eels to score two tries in quick succession after such an extended stalemate. Nevertheless, the Bunnies have managed to win all three games this year when they’ve trailed at halftime. The first try of the second half would therefore prove critical, and Sivo came close to scoring it six minutes in, only to be dragged over the sideline by a mammoth pack effort from South Sydney, spearheaded by big defensive plays from Reynolds and Surgess.
Despite that defence, Sivo still managed to have the last word, somehow popping an offload back into the field of play. It didn’t result in points then and there, but it did speak to the insatiability of the Parramatta winger, who scored a minute later on the back of a terrific try assist from Jennings. Drawing in Adam Douehi and Mawene Hiroti, Jenko popped a one-handed offload to Sivo, while Moses made it an eighteen point lead by nailing a difficult sideline conversion with no problems.
Souths now needed a show of brute strength to get back in the game, along with some proof that their young guns and veterans could link up without their key playmakers all on the park. That’s just what they got when Brittain sent a short ball out to Tom Burgess to slam through Ma’u and Mahoney right beside the posts for the first cardinal and myrtle try of the evening. Seeing Ma’u skittled was an especially important moment for the Bunnies, given the strength he’d showed over the game, and for a brief period the night hung in the balance.
That all ended, however, when the Eels returned with an equally big play, responding to Burgess’ effort on Ma’u with big runs from Peni Terepo and Kane Evans, both of which were facilitated by Moses, and both of which accelerated the strength and momentum of the Parramatta attack. By the time Mitch sent a cut-out pass to Josh Hoffman on the wing, Hoffman had the accumulated strength of two big boppers behind him, and ran at the line as if he was a forward, dodging on the inside of Lowe and slamming through Tracey to get down another four points for Parra.Embed from Getty Images
By the time that Tevita Tatola crossed over seven minutes out from the end, it was very much a consolation try. Even with the Origin absences, this was still a rousing win for the Eels, who put their loss to the Panthers behind them with courage and conviction. They’ll be looking for a big win against the Sharks, then, when they travel to Cronulla next week, especially since the Sharks will be pretty confident following their decimating win over the Dragons at WIN Stadium in Round 11.
On the other side of the Steeden, this was a bit of a shock for the Rabbitohs, especially since their next match, against the Knights, takes place a mere two days after Origin, begging the question of whether Walker, Cook and Murray will be fine to play. Reynolds’ leadership will be more important than ever when they take on the red and blue army, since there’s no doubt that Newcastle will be as keen as Parramatta to make the most of this depleted South Sydney outfit, which has been hit harder than any other, except possibly the Roosters, during the Origin season.
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