ROUND 20: St. George Illawarra Dragons v. Parramatta Eels (Jubilee Stadium, 4/8/19)
Parra hadn’t won a regular season game at Jubilee since 1997 when they rocked up to face the Dragons on Sunday afternoon. They made a fast start, as a huge hit-up from Kane Evans sent Tyson Frizell reeling on the very first set, and an error from Tim Lafai immediately after got them the first scrum feed. While the Eels didn’t score on this set, Mitchell Moses secured the first dropout by aiming the football between James Graham and Blake Lawrie to trap Ben Hunt in goal.
Moses was all over the next set as well, ending it with a crossfield kick to the right, where it was batted back. From there, Manu Ma’u shifted the footy back infield, where Moses went for a second kick to the left edge. While Jason Saab got a hand to the ball in the air, he was looking directly into the sun, and fumbled it, leaving it open for Maika Sivo to scoop it up in his right hand and then shift it to his left as he came to ground with Euan Aitken on his back.
Moses followed with another of the superb sideline conversions he has showcased over the last couple of weeks to put Parra six points ahead. They only got four tackles into their next set, however, due to a handling error from Junior Paulo. The Dragons responded with a bang, with a cut-out pass from Corey Norman allowing Mikaele Ravalawa to make some big metres on the left sideline.
With Clint Gutherson pinged for a ball strip, the Red V were in perfect position to score, especially when Brad Takairangi knocked on while trying to intercept an offload from Lafai, gifting the visitors another set of six. The Dragons moved right, then straightened the play, as Paul Vaughan took another hit-up right in front of the posts, before they got a dropout of their own after Moses was forced to boot the Steeden into touch.
St. George continued with the wide passes on the next set, starting with a harbor bridge move from Gareth Widdop to Ravalawa on the third tackle, before they headed right, and Norman shot the ball forward to Saab on the opposite wing, bringing all of their accumulating field position to nothing. This was a big letoff for the Eels, who got out of their own end as quickly as possible, thanks to a trio of carries from Jennings, Paulo and Brown, before Moses aimed for a 40/20 but came up half a metre short.Embed from Getty Images
Parra got some additional field position about fifteen minutes in on the back of their first two penalties – a pair of dangerous tackles from Aitken and Vaughan, the first of which saw Aitken put on report. The Dragons survived, but this marked the start of a period of Parramatta momentum, starting with a huge run from Sivo, who almost worked his way right up through the ruck from the far end of the park after Gutherson had cleaned up a kick from Hunt.
Unfortunately, Gutho mirrored Norman by sending a forward pass out to Jenko on the left wing, but the Eels regathered, and scored their next try a couple of sets later, following the best second-phase play of the afternoon so far. The critical sequence started with Paulo collecting the footy and then offloading it to Alvaro just before he hit the turf. Alvaro then shifted it out to Dylan Brown, who passed it to Shaun Lane before recollecting it from Lane a moment later.
Drawing on the energy of Paulo’s splendid run a couple of sets before, Brown now accelerated away from the defence, skipping out of Norman’s grasp to bring the football to the line for another four points. While Moses might have missed an easier kick to keep it a ten point lead, this was a real momentum-builder for the Eels, who controlled the game with more and more confidence, and survived a dangerous tackle from Ma’au, who was penalised and put on report in the final minutes.
The Dragons were pretty sombre as they headed to the sheds, but the Eels came back to a messy start to the second half, with an error from Blake and then a dangerous tackle from Moses putting St. George back on the front foot. Five minutes in, Norman sent a crossfield kick to the left corner, where Blake and Widdop contested it, resulting in the ball being knocked back, and Graham securing possession.
Technically, this should have been a knock-on, since Widdop sent the ball into Blake’s chest before popping it back, but the Bunker cleared it when they replayed the next sequence of play, which saw Graham pop the footy over to Lafai, who shifted it in turn out to Ravalawa. From there, the Fijian flyer skipped over a last-minute tackle from Moses to slam down the first four points for St. George before Gutherson had a chance of curving around to stop him.Embed from Getty Images
It was perhaps telling that Hunt had in fact been in position to kick, only for Norman to take control at the last minute, since it had been a pretty quiet game for the red and white halfback, apart from a brief run with the ball at the end of the first stanza. With Widdop’s conversion attempt bouncing off the left post, the Eels kept a six point lead, but Widdop made up for it with a terrific kick at the end of the next set.
For a moment, this looked like the comeback set for the Dragons, as Norman disoriented Gutherson as he leapt to gather the football by swinging an arm into his field of vision. The Red V had another shot at the line, but Frizell put down the football early in the set due to a gutsy low tackle from Brown. Moses now followed up with a brilliant piece of deception about fourteen minutes in, holding the football for just long enough to make the visitors think he was planning a crossfield chip, before sending a low grubber through the posts to catch the Dragons off guard.
The result was Mitch’s third forced dropout of the afternoon, but the Eels didn’t make much of it, shifting the footy on the first play to the right edge, where a tricky pass from Blake led to Takairangi losing it over the sideline. Emotions started to rise when Vaughan was put on report for a crusher tackle – his second dangerous tackle of the game – and at the end of the next set, Hunt fumbled a Reed Mahoney grubber right on the line, spilling it further in goal to gift Parra yet another dropout.
Mahoney followed up by sending a short ball to Paulo on the next set, and the big forward would probably have crashed over if it weren’t for the uprights blocking his way. Moses finished with another brilliant kick – this time a chip to the right corner – but Ravalawa responded with the clutch play of the game, tapping the Steeden further into the air with his left hand, then securing it with both hands as Takairangi crowded in, before finally offloading to shift the play away from the sideline.
Ravalawa’s scramble play marked the start of the most exciting and unpredictable period of the game, as both sides started to realise that whoever scored the next try would have a pretty good chance of securing the competition points. While the Dragons enjoyed a short burst of accelerating field position, Jennings dented their momentum by intercepting a Hunt pass and making his way halfway up the field, for what initially looked like the breakway try the Eels needed to solidify their lead.Embed from Getty Images
However, the most powerful display came from Vaughan, who was making his way off the park with a fractured finger when Gutherson broke through the line right in front of him. Despite having almost no mobility in his right hand, he managed to collar the Parramatta fullback with his left, in one of the most spectacular tackles of 2019. It was a bit of a shame, then, when Vaughan was penalised for a second effort, since this tackle had more extentuating factors than any other penalised this year.
Moses now booted through the last two points of the game, as both sides failed to score any more tries before the siren rang out. While the Dragons had got their mojo back at the start of the second stanza, their game got messier and less focused, from Jeremy Latimore losing the footy right in front of the posts to Sivo dragging Saab over the sideline just as they were starting to recover some rhythm. Even a pair of errors from Paulo and Jennings, and a sin bin for Evans in the final two minutes, weren’t enough to get them back in the groove, as the Eels’ confidence only grew.
Parra are now at an impressive sixth place on the ladder, thanks in part to a few weeks of visionary leadership from Moses, who was barking out orders to his men as the last couple of minutes wound down. They’ll be looking for a big win, then, when they host the Knights at Bankwest on Saturday night, for what should be one of their easier games in the countdown to finals. On the other side of the Steeden, chalk this up to another heartbreak for the Dragons, who will keen to take advantage of the Titans’ devastating loss to the Roosters when they return to Jubilee on Saturday.
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