FINALS WEEK 1: Parramatta Eels v. Brisbane Broncos (Bankwest Stadium, 15/9/19)

The first ten minutes of Sunday’s elimination final at Bankwest were all Parramatta, as the Eels got their first burst of field position on the back of a slow peel from Matthew Lodge, and then the first dropout of the game seven minutes in. While Clint Gutherson lost the footy over the side at the end of the repeat set, Blake Ferguson made the first linebreak a set later, flicking the ball back to Gutherson, who shifted it across to Waqa Blake in turn.

Blake would have scored there and then, but was held up by an epic trysaver from Payne Haas, before Anthony Milford prevented him going over in the same place a couple of tackles later. Sensing nothing was doing on the right edge, Mitchell Moses finished with a banana kick to the other side of the park, where Michael Jennings leapt for it, fumbled it, and then regathered it with his right hand, pulling the footy into his chest to score as Kotoni Staggs stormed him down.

Moses added the extras, and then had a chance at an eight point lead after a late tackle from Joe Ofahengaue, but send the Steeden away to the right of the posts. He made up for it a set later, though, kicking for himself and chasing down the footy to add another four points to the tally. By the time he was bundled up by Alex Glenn he had enough momentum to somersault through the tackle and get the ball to ground, before converting to notch up eight of the Eels’ twelve points so far.

There had been a lot in the media this week about Moses’ growth as a footballer and teammate over the course of 2019, and these opening minutes already felt like an apotheosis of his time at Parra – a natural sequel to his debut game at Bankwest earlier in the year. The Eels showed no sign of slowing down, recommencing with a rapid wide sweep that ended with Manu M’au sending Blake through the line, before the ex-Panther shifted the Steeden back inside to Gutherson.

A couple of plays later, Dylan Brown kicked back to the right edge, where Blake picked up the ball and lobbed a one-handed pass out to the wing for Fergo to slam straight through Milford to put down another four points. Moses now missed his second kick of the night, but even so the Eels were sixteen ahead, having scored almost a point per minute while managing to keep the Broncos off the board.

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Twelve minutes from the siren, Moses’ boot paid dividends once again, trapping Corey Oates in goal for another Parra dropout. While the next set ended with an error from Blake, the Eels got another dropout a few minutes later. This time Moses led from the hands, sending a twenty-five metre pass across to Dylan Brown, who responded with a short ball to Shaun Lane. In the best deception play of the game so far, Lane sent it on to Jennings, who flicked it back to Lane just as rapidly.

The Broncos were taken completely by surprise, allowing Lane to slam through Jamayne Isaako and Thomas Flegler right on the line to score another four points for Parramatta. Moses’ conversion kick came closer than the last, only to bounce off the post, but the Eels were still a comfortable twenty points ahead, while the Broncos reached their lowest point two minutes out from the break, when McCullough dropped the footy before he could get to his last tackle kick.

Moses responded with another wide pass, this time to Lane, who sent it left for Jennings to execute the catch-and-pass of the night, sending Sivo into open space on the wing. For a second, the big winger seemed to have lost the footy over his shoulder, but somehow regathered possession, dancing along the sideline to plant it down as Staggs and McCullough slid over the chalk behind him. It wouldn’t have been a finals game without Sivo scoring, so this was galvanising enough to override another missed conversion from Moses, as the Eels headed to the sheds 24-0.

The second stanza started with some good field position for the Broncos, as Dylan Brown was put on report for a dangerous tackle, and Moses was penalised for a slow peel, followed by a hand in the ruck twenty seconds later. Yet this surge of possession ended with a forward pass from Patrick Corrigan to Thomas Flegler, while Sivo scored his second successive try six minutes later, at the end of another left edge attack and another wide pass – this time from Gutho, who sent the footy across the chest of two Parra players to find his winger waiting for it on the edge.

Not only did this game feel like a pivotal moment in Moses’ evolution – conversions aside – but a critical point in Sivo’s cult image. With the home crowd seeming to chant his name every time he got a hand on the football, there could be no doubt that he’d finally eclipsed Semi Radradra for star appeal – surely part of the reason why Semi has indicated that if he were to make a return to the NRL he’d be more likely to seek out the Bulldogs than to insert himself back into the culture of his previous club.

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With Moses and Sivo firing, it was Dylan Brown’s turn to translate a stellar afternoon of football into points. Once again, Gutherson provided the assist, breaking through the middle of the ruck and making his way to the ten metre line, where he chose to pass back inside to his five-eighth instead of taking on an Anthony Milford tackle. By this stage the Broncos seemed utterly exhausted, making almost no resistance as Gutho and Brown surged through to score another four points for Parra.

Finally, Moses made a conversion, bringing the Eels to a staggering 34-0 lead as the sun started to set over Bankwest and the Broncos started to straggle like the Rabbitohs had straggled against the Roosters two nights before. Yet whereas the Bunnies only had to score enough to maintain their momentum into the next week of footy, this was sudden death for Brisbane, who kept searching, and failing to find, a way to defy this enormous wall of blue and gold jerseys.

As the last fifteen minutes of the game got underway, Jennings made the biggest hit of the night on Jake Turpin, and while Brisbane might have got a much-needed dropout shortly after, it came to nothing when Oates knocked on early in the restart. Things went from bad to worse as Joe Ofahengaue was put on report for a dangerous tackle on Ferguson, before Tepai Moroera joined the tryscorers, collecting the footy from Dylan Brown ten metres out, and dancing over a low tackle from David Fifita before twisting through Milford for his first try of the 2019 season.

With Moses adding the extras, the Eels were at 40-0, equal to the Broncos’ biggest ever finals loss. The Eels made history, then, on their next play, when Brad Takairangi brought the footy in from the left edge and offloaded right on the ground to Reed Mahoney, who fed Moses one of the wide balls that Mitch had been offering all game. Collecting it on the corner, Moses scored his second try of the match, bringing the Eels to a stunning 46-0 point lead once he’d slotted through the conversion.

The Eels were in party mode as the last five minutes wound down, especially in the wake of Melbourne’s shock loss to the Raiders at AAMI Park the afternoon before. There probably hadn’t been a better atmosphere at Bankwest since their barnstorming win over the Tigers earlier in the season, and it got even better when Dylan Brown made it a double, bringing them to an incredible 58-0 win by the time that Daniel Alvaro crashed over on the final set, and Moses added his final kick.

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Against the odds, then, the Eels put in the best performance of this first week of finals footy, outclassing even the Roosters to make history, as Moses became the highest-scoring Parramatta player in a single game, and Parramatta put down the biggest winning margin in any finals fixture, as well as their best performance in any game of finals football. Two weeks ago, you would have banked on Melbourne to beat Parra at home, but that’s no longer a sure thing, since the Eels are back, and may well just make more history before the next round of finals footy is up.

About Billy Stevenson (751 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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