The Eels were back at Bankwest after a heroic effort against the Roosters last weekend, and for a while dominated their home game against the Raiders, getting an early burst of field position when Corey Horsburgh put down the ball on Canberra’s first set. They got the first restart a moment later, but the visitors managed to clean up Dylan Brown on the final tackle, before getting six again two tackles into the next set. George Williams kicked on the second play, Clint Gutherson collected the ball without too much trouble, and the Eels got their second big bout of field position when Jordan Matterson sent his forearm into Maika Sivo’s face. Four tackles later, the Canberra defence parted for Ryan Matterson on the right side of the field, after Mitchell Moses set up the space with a huge cut-out pass to Gutho, who followed with a short ball for Matto to burst through a low tackle from Nick Cotric and get the Steeden down beneath a last-ditch effort from Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad. This was clinical stuff from Parra, who were a try per minute after Moses bookended this silky sequence with a superb sideline conversion.
Reagan Campbell-Gillard made a huge run off the kickoff, and Blake Ferguson followed suit, but CNK survived an absolutely towering bomb on the final play, reaching out his hands and tumbling to ground as Gutherson came in for a low tackle. Moses’ next kick was shorter but more confounding, defying CNK as Moses himself reached up to tap it across to Marata Niukore, who collected it at the ten and slammed over the line, before Ashley Klein referred it upstairs to see whether Mitch had knocked on. After extensive scrutiny, this did seem as close to a pure sideways tap as we’re ever likely to see, but the Bunker deemed that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to overturn Klein’s ruling of no try, and so the Raiders survived another Parramatta onslaught. For a moment, the Eels seemed to have several six again calls on the next set, but it turned out to be a phantom bell ringing out across the stadium – presumably an error in the stadium infrastructure, but possibly a false alarm brought in by a spectator. Canberra were more certain about making their Captain’s Challenge early, using it at the end of the next set to correctly assert that a supposed offside from George Williams was actually an error from Lane.Embed from Getty Images
Between the call on Niukore and the successful Challenge, the Raiders had recovered somewhat from the Eels’ opening try, so it was frustrating when Josh Papalii lost the ball a set later – and even more frustrating when Junior Paulo lost the ball after trying to collect it in one hand, only for Elliott Whitehead to make the first knock-on before Paulo finally fumbled it forward. Parra got a fresh burst when Cotric intercepted a pass from Gutho to Fergo, who was unmarked on the sideline, and Sivo started with an enormous fend on Williams, laying the platform for Moses to start a left sweep with a huge pass that opened up space for Lane to almost twist-and-spin over beside the posts. Dylan Brown then bobbled and appeared to regain the footy under big pressure from Josh Hodgson, before the Eels headed right, where Waqa Blake dummied out to Fergo before taking the Steeden over himself. However, the Bunker showed conclusively that Brown had never recovered the ball from Hodgson, disallowing the try, and giving yet another letoff to the Raiders, who really needed to score soon to make the most of all this good luck.
Their big break came with a forward pass from Reed Mahoney to Junior Paulo. Hudson busted through a tackle on the first play, Iosia Soliola almost carried three defenders across the line on the third, and then Papalii strolled through a massive hole on the right edge, off a rapid play-the-ball from Hodgson, to score right beside the posts, with Jennings barely getting a hand to him. Jarrod Croker was always going to add the extras from right in front, and so the game was wrapped up at 6-6 as the second quarter arrived. Fergo made his best defensive play so far at the end of the restart, tapping a long kick from Wighton back in field to Gutherson to avoid even the possibility of a 40/20, and he was just as safe beneath Wighton’s next kick – a shorter effort – only for the Raiders to glean a repeat set from the ten thanks to an escort from Mitch Moses. This was crunch time for Canberra, but it all came apart when Wighton’s harbor bridge pass out to the wing sailed too high, soaring above Cotric, who tried to leap up, AFL-style, to catch it, but couldn’t withstand another great contest beneath the high ball – or a different kind of high ball – from Ferguson.Embed from Getty Images
Parra followed with one of their fastest sets in some time, moving as quickly as they could without losing the ball. Moses almost coughed it up, and did well to recover it at speed, but the Eels’ acceleration got the best of them when Matterson lost it in the middle of the field. Canberra had the scrum feed, and some breathing-space while Emre Guler, who had just subbed on, had a cut attended – and they made the most of it, thanks to a pass from Croker to Cotric, who kicked off the right boot to Wighton, who in turn shot a bullet pass back inside for Whitehead to slam over and score. The kick at speed was sublime from Cotric, but the pass from Croker was flagrantly forward, so this was a frustrating moment for the Eels, especially when they had their own try called back a few sets later after Lane knocked on under the high ball, precluding a super putdown from Sivo garnering another four points. Thing got pretty dramatic from here, as Horsburgh left the field in angry tears after three-way encounter with Matterson, Mahoney and Alvaro, Moses went down on the sideline with a leg injury as the siren approached, and Hodgson was put on report in the last minute as Gutho booted the first penalty kick through the posts.
Moses didn’t return to the sheds, watching the rest of the game on crutches from the sidelines, having apparently suffered a calf tear, while Paulo was off a minute into the second half with an HIA, replaced with Ray Stone, although he would return to the field presently. The match lost focus for a while, as both teams went set for set, and didn’t do much with their last tackle options, until Brad Takairangi made the first error in a while by kicking the footy out on the full. Williams wasn’t much better with the boot at the end of the next set, sending it too far to gift Parra seven tackles. They got a restart a moment later, which counted as a burst of field position after so much to-and-fro, and RCG made good metres on the second carry, before Gutho sent a cut-out pass across to Sivo, who couldn’t quite muscle his way through three defenders on the left wing. Dylan Brown kicked to the same corner on the last play, and Sivo got the ball back, as the tackle count restarted, and the Eels ground in for their first big chance of the second stanza.Embed from Getty Images
They swept left on the second play, thanks to a strong crossfield run from Matterson, where once again Sivo was cleaned up while trying to put a fend on Rapana, who responded with a high shot while his rival no. 2 was lying prone on the ground. Shaun Lane took the first hit-up on the restart, and Mahoney followed with a sly pass to Stone, who slammed through Hodgson to put down his first NRL try right beside the posts, setting up Gutherson for a pretty easy conversion from right in front. This was great heads-up play from Mahoney, who shifted the footy to his right hand, and held it there for a full second, directing attention back to RCG before bringing it back in for a short pass to Stone. The game decelerated for the next few sets, until the Eels scored their next try, thanks to a superb assist from Lane, who collected the ball from Gutherson, and offloaded through a low tackle from Young and Scott to Jennings, who skipped over an ankle tap from Rapana to slam down four more points. Finally, with Gutherson adding the extras, the Eels were more than a converted try ahead, and starting to glimpse the scoreline that seemed promised by their spending opening minutes.
A few minutes later, Mahoney sent a long ball to Dylan Brown, and Gutherson followed with a brilliant cut-out pass, sending the Steeden across Jennings’ chest to put Sivo across in the corner for his first ever try against the Raiders. Sivo had now scored 26 tries in 32 games, and put down points against every team but the Bulldogs, while the Eels were double Canberra after Gutherson missed the extras, and restless on the restart, hungry for the linebreak that would put them beyond the Raiders for good. Takairangi almost broke through on the fourth tackle, but Matterson’s final kick bounced off the defence, and so the set ended with a fizzle. Instead, the Raiders were the next to score, as CNK put down an incredible double in the dying minutes of the game for arguably the greatest comeback of the 2020 season so far. The first came when Charnze caught a beautiful Williams kick on the full – a short chip over the defence – seeming to fly to the ground, so elegantly did he continue the Steeden’s momentum. The second came on the restart, when Whitehead dummied, deceived Blake, and broke through the line, before sending the footy back inside to his fullback.Embed from Getty Images
Charnze outran Dylan Brown and skipped over a low ankle tap to get to ground, while Croker added the extras to level the scoreline to 24-24 with ninety seconds on the clock. Canberra had to kick a field goal now or else concede the possibility of golden point, but instead Gutherson collected the kick, and the Eels marched back down the park, having to contend with a one-pointer with limited field position and Moses off the field. They didn’t get there, and so the game headed into extra time, with the Raiders getting first touch of the football. Williams shaped to kick, but was forced to chip instead, and Fergo somehow slid along the ground and scooped up the Steeden without a knock-on, using the slippery surface of Bankwest to his advantage. Gutho was the next to kick, but had to content himself with a bomb to the left of the posts. Wighton made the first genuine field goal effort, but it didn’t go far enough, while the Raiders lost their Captain’s Challenge trying to prove that Gutho had taken his foot off the goal line when he collected the footy, and thereby prevent the subsequent seven tackle set for Parra at such a critical juncture.
Paulo offloaded to RCG on play three of the next set, and Gutherson sent the Steeden out to the right on the last kick, meaning Canberra now had a seven tackle set, although they couldn’t get to a field goal. A knock-on from Canberra towards the end of the first Parra set back from the break got the blue and gold army the field position they needed, and this time Gutho got the shot, slotting through the first field goal of his career to put the Eels back at the top of the ladder. It would have been a fairytale finish for Canberra to score after their shock comeback in the final minutes of regulation time, but they’d still put in a great fight to bring the game to the second half of golden point, so they’ll be looking to channel some of that energy when they host the Dragons next Thursday night. On the other side of the Steeden, this was a sublime display from the Eels, both of their skill and their depth, since they managed to reconfigure without Moses as seamlessly as the Roosters had reconfigured without Teddy and Brett Morris the night before. They’ll be looking for a big win, then, when they host the Cowboys next week, although you can be sure North Queensland will also be bringing their A-game after such a stunning display against the Knights earlier this afternoon.