Saturday afternoon’s game at Bankwest boasted one of the most dynamic openings in weeks, with three tries, three linebreaks and no handling errors in the first fifteen minutes. Despite being ranked eleventh to the Eels’ sixth, the Warriors had the stronger start, from a 40/20 from Issac Luke to a right sweep that saw Ken Maumalo put down the first try five minutes in, off an assist from Peta Hiku. Luke bookended the play by adding the extras, putting the Warriors six points ahead.
New Zealand continued to apply pressure, first with a kick bomb from Chanel Harris-Tevita, and then by forcing a slow peel from Junior Paulo, so it was a relief for the home crowd when Clint Gutherson managed to defuse a potentially dangerous last tackle kick from Blake Green. An offload from Manu M’au now set up an enormous run from Maika Sivo, who disposed of Gerard Beale, made a Greg Inglis-like fend on Blake Ayshford, and then skipped over the last line of defence to bring the football to the Warriors’ twenty.
It was one of the most sudden reversals of fortune in 2019 – a superhuman effort in which Sivo singlehandedly wrenched the opening momentum back from the Warriors. By the time they got to him, all he had to do was pop the footy across to Brad Takairangi, with Mitchell Moses adding the extras to bring the game level. Parra then got a penalty at the start of the next set, when Adam Blair was called offside within the ten, and scored again immediately, thanks to more vision from Moses.
First, Moses opted for a wide pass to Gutherson instead of a kick on the last, setting up his fullback for a cut-out pass to Ethan Parry, who slammed over for another four points. Then Moses managed a stunning conversion, his sixth in a row from the sideline, booting the ball straight through the posts with the confidence and assurance he always seems to exude at Bankwest since his incredible performance against the Tigers for the venue’s debut game.
It didn’t take long for the Warriors to bounce back, as Luke stormed over beneath the uprights under some big pressure from Gutherson. For a moment, there was some question as to whether he’d lost the football, but the bunker deemed that he’d retained possession, and he converted his own try a moment later, levelling the scoreline once again. New Zealand had got a bit of confidence back, and their attack accelerated, culminating with a tryscoring set twenty-five minutes in.Embed from Getty Images
In many ways, this set felt like a direct answer to the Eels’ energy, and to Sivo’s run in particular. First, Green managed to outplay Moses, deflecting the footy off his boot before scooping it straight up on the last tackle. Then, Harris-Tevita almost sent Ayshford over, allowing him to expend a bit of energy after the frustration of being fended off by Sivo. Finally, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck popped a no-look harbor bridge pass out to Beale, Sivo’s other main casualty, who put down his first try of the year.
Luke now showed that he could manage a superb sideline conversion every bit as well as Moses, while the Warriors followed up with a big defensive formation shortly after – a pack effort to carry Gutherson back about ten metres early in the tackle count, spearheaded by Harris-Tevita. A set later, Moses responded with an equally big play, charging down Maumalo as he was leisurely collecting the football, and almost dragging him over the line with a massive wraparound tackle.
In any case, Lachlan Burr lost the football shortly after, leading to a break in play as he was taken off the field for an HIA following a head clash with Nathan Brown. Both teams tried to take possession of the game over the last ten minutes, and for a moment the Eels seemed set to build on some accelerating position and a final dropout, when Gutherson slammed to ground beneath the uprights and leaped up immediately to claim the four points.
Yet the replay showed that Jazz Tevaga had made a superhuman effort to keep a hand under the football even as Gutherson rotated a full hundred and eighty degrees in his effort to ground it, actually pivoting on his head before Bunty Afoa rushed in to assist with the tackle, forcing him to lose the footy before he could elude Tevaga’s grasp. That final disappointment may have galvanised Parra, however, since they escalated over the first ten minutes of the second stanza.
They were helped by a one-on-one strip from Harris-Tevita that was incorrectly held to take place with two in the tackle. Bookended by dangerous tackles from Green and Burr, it made for three successive penalties, laying the foundation for the strangest try of the afternoon. This started with an offload from Dylan Brown to nobody in particular, after which Green knocked the footy backwards, ricocheting it backwards off Tevaga’s knee, before Sivo picked it up and dove in goal.Embed from Getty Images
All of a sudden, Sivo was the highest tryscorer of 2019, as Moses added the extras to bring the score to eighteen all. A speedy contest between RTS and Moses followed on the tail end of a skittering Gutherson kick, but RTS just managed to get the ball down before Mitch arrived behind him. Nevertheless, the Eels had a dropout, and the Warriors were getting desperate, as evinced in a grapple from Burr around Brown’s neck on the first play, which led to some shoving and pushing and the prospect of some more field position for Parramatta.
They elected not to take it, however, with Moses instead booting through a penalty goal from thirty metres out. A set later, Moses mirrored Sivo’s splendid run, finding himself in position to take an offload from Manu M’au, only for the big second-rower to pass the ball too hard, resulting in it ricocheting off his halfback’s chest. Nevertheless, Moses managed to regather it, before getting on the outside of Blair and speeding up the sideline, kicking the Steeden back infield just before RTS bumped him into touch.
All Gutherson had to do was collect the ball and ground it for another Parramatta try, making Moses even more comfortable in his position as top try assister so far from 2019. This time, he missed the conversion, but with the penalty kick the Eels were still a converted try ahead. Before they could enjoy their lead, however, Agnatius Paasi stripped the ball back from Burr, and the Warriors rapidly swept it to the right, as Hiku drew Parry in off his line and then opted for a flick pass out the back, where Maumalo was waiting to collect the footy and ground it in the corner.
The big New Zealand winger had now equalled Sivo as the top tryscorer of the year so far, making the match feel even more personal as the final quarter approached. For a moment, the Warriors looked like they had it in the bag, thanks to an inspired wide pass from Maumalo to RTS on the very first tackle, and then an incredible run from RTS shortly after. Breaking through the line, Roger flicked the ball out to Beale, who would have notched up a try if it hadn’t been called back for a forward pass.
With the replay, however, it became clear that this was a very questionable call – so questionable that it deflated the last part of the game. This should have been the winning try, but instead the match petered out, until the Eels came away with a two point lead, justifying their decision to have Moses take the two from the thirty earlier in the second stanza. They’ll be looking for a bigger win margin, then, when they take on the Dragons next Sunday, while the Warriors will be keen to regain some pride when they host the Raiders in Auckland.