ROUND 2: Gold Coast Titans v. Parramatta Eels (Cbus Super Stadium, 22/3/20)

The last game before the NRL season was suspended was a pretty dour affair for the Titans, who came away with a single try as Parramatta piled on a 40-point win, and lost Kevin Proctor to an injury during the warmup, forcing the team to reshuffle around Tyrone Peachey and Jai Arrow. Cbus Super Stadium felt more echoey than the other venues in Round 2 as Gold Coast completed their first set, with most players pretty audible and easy to distinguish from each other as they barked out orders. Philip Sami managed an awkward catch, under pressure from Reagan Campbell-Gillard, in these opening minutes, but the Titans were forced to kick from within their own forty shortly after. Junior Paulo followed with a strong carry up the middle on the fourth play, before Mitchell Moses grubbered for himself, and kicked a second time, after realising that he’d caught Sami slightly out of position.

Both Paulo and Moses would have big nights, and if Reed Mahoney hadn’t fumbled the football, the Eels might have had their first try then and there. Still, Moses wouldn’t have to wait long to capitalise on this early dexterity. Despite a skittering, searching run from Anthony Don midway through the next set, Clint Gutherson still cleaned up the kick, before Moses broke through the line and ran seventy metres to score. It was weird to see such a spectacular break without a crowd to cheer it on – and the putdown was just as great, as Moses leapt through the air like a career winger before steering himself away from Sami to land Steeden-first in the corner. Still, this was a halfback play through and through, since the pivotal moment came midway through Moses’ run, when he shaped as if to pass back inside to Gutherson, before shifting abruptly off the left boot and taking on the try line himself.

Full credit also has to go to Nathan Brown for the pass, and Ryan Matterson for the offload, that set up Moses in the first place, bringing the Eels to a six point lead once Moses converted his own try from the sideline. For a moment, it looked like Blake Ferguson had cost Parra’s momentum with a lost ball on the very next play, but instead Bryce Cartwright was pinged for a hand in the ruck, getting the Eels a piggy-back up the park. Carty got some joy with a bootlace tackle that prevented Dylan Brown breaking through the line, but on the very next play Mahoney made good off Moses’ opening kick, receiving the footy off a deft pair of offloads from Moses and Paulo to crash over. The Eels had gone back-to-back, and Mahoney had scored his second try in two games, while Moses made this his second conversion of the night, bringing them to a twelve point lead with only eight minutes on the clock.

Paulo and Fergo took big hits at the start of the next set, and RCG brought in four Titans defenders to hold him up, but the Eels couldn’t quite gather their momentum on this second restart. First, Matterson sent out a loose offload, and while Waqa Blake steadied the ship with a big run up the middle, Shaun Lane lost the ball a moment later. Gold Coast now had their first big attacking opportunity – and their first linebreak on the third tackle, when Peachey sliced through the defence, but was brought down by a low hit from Gutherson. They followed with their best team effort of the night, shifting the Steeden rapidly over to the right edge, but it came to nothing when Maika Sivo stormed in for some brilliant scrambling defence on Cartwright, who couldn’t get the critical offload away to complete the sweep.

Paulo was already having a great night with run metres, and added a few more notches to his belt at the start of the next Parramatta set. Still, the Titans responded with their first and only try next time they had ball in hand, thanks to a superb sequence that unfolded in the wake of an Ash Taylor bomb. Don and Gutho competed for the ball, Don knocked it back, and it slid off Gutherson’s hands, sitting up perfectly for Jarrod Wallace to scoop in and shift it across to Taylor. The Gold Coast halfback now made one of his best plays of the game, sending a spiraling harbor bridge pass across to Dale Copley, who lunged forward to collect it, pivoted off the left foot, and headed back infield, reaching out his left hand to slam the Steeden down as Nathan Brown tumbled over him, making contact with the knee after the four points had been scored, for  a penalty try – albeit only a six point advance, since Taylor missed the conversion in the interim.

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Jai Arrow made a good start to the next set, putting about ten metres behind him, but Taylor had a frustrating sequel to his superb pass to Copley, knocking on the footy just when Gold Coast needed to be escalating. This was just the change in rhythm that Parra needed to start accelerating – or that Moses needed, since he now sent through another terrific grubber on the last, tempting Tyrone Roberts into an escorts penalty on Matterson. Unfortunately for Parra fans, RCG now followed in Taylor’s footsteps, fumbling the footy while trying to receive it out of dummy half, gifting Gold Coast their biggest letoff so far. The Titans would get two more letoffs over the next fifteen minutes – first, when Fergo slipped over on the grass and lost the ball, and then when the Eels inexplicably chose to kick for goal after a late tackle from Moeika Fotuaika – but they still took a pretty big hit of their own when Roberts was taken off the field with a possible ankle injury following a clash with Brown.

So far, the Eels had the upper hand, but you still couldn’t have anticipated the avalanche of unanswered points that would ensue in the last 25 minutes, especially since the first half ended pretty uneventfully, with a series of errors from both teams. Parra’s big men made some big metres on the first set back, and then kept the Titans in their own half, eventually forcing Jai Whitbread into a handling error – and Peachey into an unsuccessful captain’s challenge, as he tried to get Peni Terepo pinged for a hand in the ruck. This was a bit of a tough call for the Titans, but it didn’t cost them too much, since Dylan Brown was the next casuality of the sticky conditions at Robina, putting the ball down cold after receiving it from Nathan Brown a few plays later. With fewer than 50% completions, Gold Coast needed to make the most of yet another letoff, but they didn’t put much of a kick chase on Taylor’s next bomb, allowing Gutherson to clean it up pretty easily.

The Titans were even luckier when Carty got away with a blatant forward pass a set later, but it all came to nothing when Mitch Rein lost the ball out of dummy half, before a Shaun Lane offload got Michael Jennings some metres, and Wallace was penalised for a second effort. By all accounts, the Eels should have scored here, especially since they got the ball back after Moses’ kick, shifting it through several players before Brown booted a second kick to the right edge, where Don knocked it on. But, to their credit, Gold Coast amped up their defence on the restart, putting in a series of monster tackles that ended with Jenko tapping the footy forward to Sivo on the left edge, bringing this period of Parramatta dominance to an abrupt end.

Nevertheless, Kelly knocked on just as quickly, as the game settled into a slog for the next few minutes, with neither team able to capitalise on the others’ errors. One of the most promising moments from Parra came off another Moses kick, which falconed off Taylor’s head, allowing Moses to regather it and head to the left corner, where he popped it across to Sivo, who found himself help up by Sami and Kallum Watkins right on the line. This was a superb trysaver – the best of the night – and suggested that Gold Coast might just be able to win the match on defence, like some of the best Wests Tigers matches of the early Ivan Cleary era, if only they could consolidate and score one or two more tries while the deficit was relatively low.

Accordingly, they were even better on defence the next time the Eels had ball in hand – and for a moment it looked like the game might tip back in their favour. It was a turning-point, then, when Wallace put the footy down two tackles into their next set, in the error that broke the back of the game, and allowed Parramatta to commence the cascade of points that would skyrocket them to 46-6. Gold Coast were now nine from nineteen, as Sivo poked his nose through the line on the third play, tempting a slow peel from Wallace, in what had been a pretty rough period for the big no. 8. Kane Evans then started a stellar period in the front row, reaching his hands up Rugby-style to offload back to Dylan Brown, who swerved around Wallace and Nathan Peats with some deft footwork, before slamming down the third blue and gold try of the night, putting Parra fourteen points ahead as the last quarter of the game approached.

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Rein was penalised right away on the restart, for a dangerous tackle on Ferguson, and the Eels went back-to-back for a second time, as Evans broke through the line and shifted the footy back to Brown, in a reprisal of their previous tryscoring combination. This time they only got twenty-five metres out, but their field position was instrumental in helping the Eels consolidate over the next few tackles, which ended with a repeat set when Arrow played at the ball after it left Moses’ boot. Only a terrific low tackle from Kelly prevented Matterson smashing over on the first play, before Evans collected the Steeden fifteen metres out, and ran a hard line to trample over Peachey and Sami to put down the next four points for Parramatta. Between his linebreak and try, Evans had bookended this entire play, which felt like the Eels’ definitive comeback after the middle period of the match, especially once Moses nailed another kick to put his men twenty points ahead.

They were probably already beyond Gold Coast, but still managed to double their score over the next eighteen minutes, in the fastest finish of the 2020 NRL season so far. The next try was another masterclass from Moses, who started a rapid left sweep with a deft pass to Brown, who shifted it in to Jennings in turn. For a moment, it looked like Jenko might succumb to a combined tackle from Watkins and Peats, but he managed one of the best offloads of the game, getting an arm free to pop the ball out to Sivo, who pivoted off the left boot to swerve back in field and score. The next try came a few minutes later, and was assisted by Evans off the bench, who drifted over to the left edge of the field at the end of a strong set, and sent the Steeden across to Terepo to fend off two defenders to score his first try since Round 21 2014.

The last try said it all, as Brown scooped up the footy after the last kick ricocheted off Cartwright, and made his made to the line from 25 metres out, breaking away from Sami and Arrow and then slamming to the ground before Watkins could hold him up. This was a superb one-man effort, but it also spoke to the focus of the Parramatta game that lay behind it, resulting in the biggest win ever for the Eels against Gold Coast once Moses booted through a penalty kick one second after the end following a ball strip from Wallace – and a successful captain’s challenge that confirmed the strip. They were supposed to travel to North Queensland to meet the Cowboys in Round 3, while the Titans were slated to host the Broncos next Sunday evening at Cbus, but it’s unclear when either team will take the football field next. For the moment, then, the Eels are the 2020 season premiers – and may remain that way, depending on whether or not we see any more NRL during the year.

About Billy Stevenson (750 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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