It was a fast start at Bankwest when the Eels hosted the Sea Eagles on Friday evening, with the home team putting down a pair of back-to-back tries in the first ten minutes. Manly actually got an early chance with a linebreak from Marty Taupau, a strong run from Apisai Koroisau, and a restart after a strip from Reed Mahoney, but Addin Fonua-Blake was cleaned up on the left edge of the field on the last tackle, before leaking a penalty early in the next set to give Parra a burst of field position.
The Eels responded by shifting the footy to the left edge of their attack, where Maika Sivo broke through a low tackle from Brendan Elliott and offloaded to Michael Jennings in the midst of a low shot from Reuben Garrick. All Jenko had to do was curve around behind the posts to set up Mitchell Moses for the perfect conversion, while Parra had immediately exposed the vulnerability of Garrick at fullback and Elliott on the wing following Tom Trbojevic’s pectoral injury the week before.
To make matters worse, the Eels now went back to back, scoring on the restart up the other side of the field. Once again they started with a sequence of second phase play, before Waqa Blake added the extras with a brilliant passage of footwork, shaping as if to pass to Blake Ferguson before sending a cut-out across Fergo’s chest to put Clint Gutherson over the line. This time, Moses had a more challenging sideline conversion, but he made it, bringing the Eels to a rapid twelve point lead.
They’d needed to win by twelve to leapfrog Manly, so they were already ahead of them on the live ladder. Meanwhile, the Sea Eagles really needed a show of strength from Daly Cherry-Evans in Tom Turbo’s absence. They got the opposite a few sets later, when DCE responded to a slow play-the-ball with a long pass to Jake Trbojevic, leaving space for Jennings to force an error from the Manly lock. Still, DCE made up for it with a linebreak and chip after, beating Moses to the footy to secure a dropout.
The repeat set came to nothing when Garrick tried to replicate a superb offload from Sironen but ended up passing the Steeden straight to Sivo, while DCE’s boot was quickly neutralized by one of the most dazzling displays of confidence from Parramatta a few sets later. Catching a DCE bomb on the right side of the Parra attack, Fergo passed it twenty metres across to Gutherson, who sent it on to Sivo, who fended off Suli and made a quick play-the-ball to force an error from Sironen.Embed from Getty Images
At the other end of the field, Moses grubbered on the last and the Eels almost came up with the most remarkable try of their season, as Suli collected the footy behind the try line, but then found it stripped by Shaun Lane in goal, forcing him to put in the trysaving tackle of the night to get himself beneath the ball as the wiry second rower tried to get it to ground. The Eels had built momentum, though, and Manu M’au and Tepai Moeroa came within centimetres of the line on the restart, before a Moses kick ricocheted off the defence and was then knocked on by Corey Waddell.
It had been a rough night off the bench for Waddell, who had missed a pass earlier in the game, and the Eels were accelerating with each Manly error. Blake surged off the right foot straight out of the scrum, Moeroa straightened the play, and Sivo was cleaned up on the left edge, before Moses ended with a beautiful crossfield chip to Fergo that would have been a try assist if the windy conditions hadn’t got in the way. Curling along the surface of the ground, the breeze sent the ball awry, causing Fergo to knock on instead of putting down what should have been Parramatta’s third try.
This was a big letoff for the Sea Eagles, but they conceded another bout of Parramatta field position at the start of the next set, when Fonua-Blake appeared to have got things rolling with a fend on Moses and a quick play-the-ball, only to lose the football. Manly were so deflated that it felt almost inevitable that Parra would score on the next set, so it felt like a big achievement when Garrick managed to clean up a Gutherson grubber despite one of the biggest hits of the night from Sivo.
Five minutes out from the siren, the Sea Eagles got their best chance of the night, when Bradley Parker caught a DCE kick on the edge of the field, and sent it back inside to Jorge Taufua, who could have crossed over untouched if he hadn’t followed Latrell Mitchell the night before by bombing the ball in the corner. For a consolation the Sea Eagles got a penalty kick right on the siren, as the humid evening started to spill into a storm, but Moses regained the fourteen point lead after Manase Fainu was pinged for a dangerous tackle on Ray Stone at the start of the second half.
While Fainu’s penalty might have been a bit harsh, nobody could question the danger of Taupau’s high hit on Stone a few sets later, nor the decision to send Taupau to the bin as Stone was taken off the field by the medicab. Yet the additional pressure worked well for the Sea Eagles, who scored their first four points with twelve men on the field, thanks to a flick pass from DCE and an offload from Loyd Perrett that send Fainu over the line right beneath the posts.Embed from Getty Images
Full credit has to go to Fainu, too, for a gutsy putdown, as he burrowed himself beneath Gutho and Lane to set up Garrick for the simplest conversion of the night so far. Manly had reduced the deficit to ten, but the Eels responded almost immediately with an equally simple play – a well-weighted kick from Dylan Brown to the left corner, and a terrific chase from Sivo that allowed him to put down the Steeden before Garrick could collect it or bump his competitor into touch.
The speed and timing of this try prompted a rapturous reactionfrom the home crowd, and felt like a pivotal moment in Sivo’s presence in Parramatta – both as a player and as an icon, both on his own terms and as the successor to Semi Radradra’s cult status on the wing. Yet Manly responded almost as quickly, putting down their messiest try of the 2019 season after Blake made a mistake in the play-the-ball.
The play started with Moeroa striping the footy from Taupau and scooping it up in his right hand, only to find it knocked out by Fainu. There was a brief question of whether Fainu had also knocked the ball into Moeroa’s legs, but the Bunker cleared it, leaving the ball live as Fainu kicked it forward, and then got it down just before Gutho made contact with it. All of a sudden Manly were back to fifth on the live ladder, narrowing the Parramatta lead to a single converted try when Garrick took the two after Brad Takairangi was pinged for not being square at marker.
The last part of the game was defined by a shoulder charge that saw Kane Evans sent to the bin and Bradley Parker taken off the field. Undeterred by this illegal move, Daniel Alvaro tangled himself around Taupau’s legs at the end of the next set, preventing the big prop from executing the play-the-ball. Amazingly, the penalty went Parra’s way, and to make matters worse the Eels scored their next try on the back of this fresh bout of field position, effectively securing themselves the win.
Ths try felt even more momentous for propelling Sivo above Latrell Mitchell for top tryscorer of 2019. Collecting the footy on the left side of the field, Sivo barged through Garrick, sending a ripple out through DCE and the rest of the Manly defence, while keeping his left hand in the air and getting the footy down with his right hand – all the while maintaining control, and making the awkwardness of his posture look as elegant and seamless as if the Manly players hadn’t been crowding in on all sides.Embed from Getty Images
Two minutes out from the end, Parra capped off their splendid night with one of the best team tries of their season. It started with an offload from M’au to Moses, who responded with a superb wide ball to the left side of the field, where Brown ferried the footy across to Jennings. For a moment, Jenko looked set to burst through the defence himself, only to offload at the final second to Sivo, who slammed over for the first hat trick of his career.
Over the last few rounds, Sivo has been steadily cementing his role in the 2019 Parra mythology, and these three tries were the last ingredient, not only providing the Eels with the twelve point lead needed to secure them fifth spot on the ladder, but the kind of myth building that every team needs on the cusp of finals. On the other side of the Steeden, the game was a grim reminder of how integral Tom Turbo is to the Sea Eagles’ vision, and how much DCE will need to work next week to keep them in contention. Along with Cameron Smith he’s been the best club captain this year, and that leadership will prove absolutely crucial now that finals footy is here.