ROUND 3: Brisbane Broncos v. Parramatta Eels (Suncorp Stadium, 28/5/20)

Parramatta started the first game of the restarted NRL season in style, getting six again two minutes into the match, and then another six a tackle later. Two plays on, Marata Niukore broke through the line, but his putdown was deemed no try by Gerard Sutton, who called that Niukore lost control of the ball while contending with a low tackle from Patrick Carrigan. As it turned out, Sutton’s view had been blocked by Jamayne Isaako, who came in from a follow-up effort, since the Bunker footage showed that Niukore had succeeded, getting Parra a six point lead once Mitchell Moses nailed the first conversion of the night. Things got better for the Eels with another bout of field position after Jake Turpin was pinged for holding down, and then a dropout when Jesse Arthars slid the footy into touch at the back end of a Dylan Brown kick.

Three tackles into the dropout, Moses almost sent Ryan Matterson through the line, and Matto responded with an equally impressive play – a superb no-look flick pass out to Blake Ferguson out on the wing. However, Fergo was dragged over the sideline by the best defence from Brisbane so far, helping the Broncos to regain some momentum, as both sidse went set for set for a few minutes, before a massive combined low hit from Arthars and Jamil Hopoate dislodged the Steeden from Maika Sivo early in the tackle count. Brodie Croft made a pitch-perfect kick on the next set, dummying before grubbering the footy through the defence, but the bounce didn’t quite work for Anthony Milford, who slammed in at the right time, and the right speed, but was unable to secure control of the Steeden when it careened off the ground right behind the uprights.

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This had the potential to be a big momentum-builder for the Eels, and Moses tried to accelerate things by kicking on the third, but Isaako regathered the football without too much trouble, as Brisbane ground down to recoup some of their recent rhythm. Kotoni Staggs now collected a tricky pass from Croft on the right edge and made twenty metres up the park before Clint Gutherson cleaned up him, but the Broncos had momentum, and used it to commence a rapid left sweep that ended with a deft kick from Milford to the left corner, where Fergo was forced to pop it into touch. Now the Broncos had a dropout, and then a set restart, channeling all the best moments from Parramatta’s early attack, only for Matterson to come back with a big one-man effort – a one-on-one steal from Carrigan that got the Eels another major shift in momentum, and another potential turning-point in the game.

That said, Parra really needed to score now to build on their good luck – and a set later Sivo collected a towering kick from Croft and made his way down the left side of the field, only to pass it straight back to Arthars. In yet another burst of luck for Parra, Carrigan made an error almost immediately, and the visitors got rolling again, with Gutherson dodging and weaving his way through the line, and dropping the ball on his boot for a potential trymaking kick, before the play was called back for an obstruction from Shaun Lane. Moments later, Croft made one of the halfback runs of the year, gathering the footy in the middle of the field and swerving around Niukore to make a beeline for the left corner, where he outran Gutherson to put down the first Brisbane try of the night, bringing the Broncos level once Isaako added the extras.

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This was closure for Croft, whose earlier kick to Milford had gone begging, but the Eels consolidated after a couple of minutes, and got their second dropout 27 minutes in. A rapid left play ended with Dylan Brown floating a harbor bridge pass across to Michael Jennings, who drew in Arthars and Staggs before flicking the footy across to Sivo for a magical putdown. The cult winger seemed to be flying as he kept his body in the air for long enough to ground the Steeden with Arthars on his back, before Moses made another notch in his battle of the boot with Isaako, clocking thirteen from thirteen. Parra came close to a double a moment later, when a massive cut-out pass from Gutho was called forward, but they still got another dropout with six on the clock, when Lane ferried the footy down the short side and sent an over-the-shoulder pass to Gutho, who responded with a left foot kick that Croft had to bundle into touch.

Cometh the hour, cometh the team, and Brisbane now delivered their best set all night – starting with a low tackle from Darius Boyd on Waqa Blake, and ending with Junior Paulo conceding the footy to Lodge a couple of plays later, only for Hopoate to lose the Steeden after receiving it out of dummy half. Boyd stepped up again with a huge hit on Fergo, getting in hard and low, and taking the wind out of the ex-Rooster, while Brisbane got six again at the end of the next set. Once again, however, the Broncos couldn’t capitalise on a kick in goal, as Boyd got his hands on a superb boot from Milford, but found Fergo coming in for a low revenge tackle of his own that stopped the play dead in its tracks, as a near-certain try from Brisbane went begging, and the Eels got another chance to continue capitalizing on their escalating momentum.

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They didn’t score before the break, but Hopoate started the second half with another error, losing the footy two minutes in and gifting the Eels another bout of field position – costly field position, as it turned out, since the Broncos never quite regained their composure here, allowing Gutho to collect the footy on the left edge, fend off Croft, and slam over for their third try of the night. Once again, Parra had started off with a rapid try off six again, although Moses now missed the conversion, going back to zero as Parramatta remained at a ten point lead. Reed Mahoney’s next kick was better, finishing the restart with a beautifully weighted effort that Oates was almost able to shepherd into touch, decelerating in goal until he was forced to make contact at the last minute, albeit with a little bit of help from Waqa Blake, who tumbled into him from behind to ensure the Eels’ next dropout.

Kane Evans took the first run, and Junior Paul made a dazzlingly late offload on the third tackle, getting his arm away from 330kg of Brisbane defence for some deft second-phase play that ended with Matterson being wrapped up on the right edge. For a moment, the subsequent left sweep looked promising, but it came to nothing with a handling error from Peni Terepo, although the Eels didn’t have to wait very long to get the footy back, thanks to Staggs making a mistake in the very first play-the-ball. It was like a game of musical chairs as Milford now stripped the footy after Blake made some good post-contact metres, with both teams struggling to regain control of the narrative as the final half hour started to come into view. Brisbane may have been organized on the next set, but Parra were scintillating next time they had ball in hand, culminating with one of their most exciting sequences on the final play.

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As if taking his cues from Croft’s mad dash in the first stanza, Moses chose to run the footy, lobbing it across to Matterson who caught it in the right hand, before the Eels lost control, only for Croft to be called offside after Oates tried and failed to clean things up. Two tackles later, Evans twisted and spun, almost dragging five Broncos over the chalk with him, before Reagan Campbell-Gillard barged into the Brisbane defence under the posts a tackle later. After a brief skirmish on the left edge, Fergo found himself with the footy on the right, heading back inside, before Mahoney fed it to Moses for another left sweep. On the final play, Isaako knocked on Gutho’s kick, Staggs was called offside, and the Broncos teetered on the very cusp of chaos, reaching deep into the tank to weather another set from Parramatta.

Once more, RCG rattled Brisbane in front of the uprights, but a dropped ball from Junior Paulo, following a deft wraparound pass from Evans, got Brisbane their biggest letoff so far. This was the kind of defence that wins games, so the Broncos had to bring the same energy in attack now – and for a moment Oates seemed to have found the space he needed on the left edge, surging ten metres up the chalk before the pass from Milford was called forward, and both teams got some breathing-space as the Eels prepared for the scrum feed in the middle of the field. Evans, Moses and RCG took a trio of big hits, before Lane caught the footy from Gutho and added to the catalogue of burly twist-and-spin effort from Parra during this second stanza. On the final tackle, Moses kicked to the right corner, where Fergo slipped while contesting Oates, but not without Boyd conceding an escorts penalty, and yet more field position for Parra.

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The Eels needed to score here, so something momentarily shifted when Isaako caught Gutho’s kick on the full in goal, getting his men a twenty-metre restart, and potentially their most critical set all night – including their first play-the-ball in Parra territory during the second stanza. Milford kicked left, but Fergo came good, catching the footy on the full and hugging the ground outside the goal line, before taking a big hitup from Payne Haas on the second tackle. Moses kicked early, from the thirty, in an effort to recoup some field position, and then Dylan Brown collected a lost ball from Staggs, who took out his frustration with a dangerous tackle that got Parra even more field position, begging the question of just what it would take for the blue and gold army to translate all this accumulated field position into another four or six points, let alone the avalanche of tries that their top-of-the-ladder form really deserved here.

Two tackles later, Jennings provided the answer with the 148th try of his career, receiving the Steeden on the left edge, skidding across the face of the ruck, dummying five metres out, and then slamming through a low tackle from Turpin to score right beneath the posts, setting up Moses for the easiest conversion of the night, in a brilliant riposte to Croft’s one-man effort during the first half of the game. RCG started the next set with a monster run, and Moses kicked on the third, almost nailing down a 40/20 before Isaako scooped up the Steeden at the final second. Brisbane managed to regather here, but it was only a matter of time before the Eels scored again – this time with a much simpler and harder play, as Lane collected a short ball from Gutho and then steamrolled over Hopoate and Staggs, who were so close to the line that they needed to stop him his tracks to prevent a try, which they couldn’t.

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By this stage, Parra had well and truly proven why they were first on the ladder, regathering the form that allowed them to only concede one try during their opening games against the Bulldogs and the Titans. While there was no 58-0 scoreline, this scintillating sequence still had echoes of Parra’s final match against Brisbane at the end of last year – especially when they put their last try of the night together. In a compressed vision of the speed and and strength that had made the Eels so spectacular during this first stint back from lockdown, Moses found himself with the footy ten metres out from the line, and shifted it across to Matterson, who offloaded right on the ground for Blake to celebrate his hundredth game in style. They’re three from three, and just as good as they were at the start of the year, so they’ll be keen to continue this big energy when they take on the Sea Eagles in Round 4, while Brisbane will be raring for a emphatic win over the Roosters on Thursday night.

About Billy Stevenson (509 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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