ROUND 11: Parramatta Eels v. Wests Tigers (Bankwest Stadium, 23/7/20)
Thursday night’s showdown between the Tigers and Eels was the grudge match of the season for both teams, with Mitchell Moses back on the park and Ryan Matterson’s departing comments resurfacing in the media for only the third game between the two sides at Bankwest since Parra had christened their new home ground with a 51-6 win over Wests last year. The Eels were second on the ladder, the Tigers seventh, but the Eels were also coming off a surprise loss to the Sea Eagles, while the Tigers were presumably still pumped from their historic 48-0 win over the Broncos, meaning this could be anybody’s game, depending on how each outfit seized their respective opportunities. It started strong for the Tigers, with Russell Packer getting the first penalty on the second carry (a strip from Junior Paulo), and Harry Grant making a good run out of dummy half four plays later, before sending a flat pass for Luciano Leilua to get on the outside of Matterson and smash into Reed Mahoney, hanging perfectly in the tackle to get the footy down. Benji Marshall kicked on the third play of the next set, and the Eels had their first touch of the football, as Maika Sivo tried to make up for lost time with a bullocking run two plays later.
The set ended with a Mitchell Moses bomb, but Adam Doueihi was safe beneath it, and the Eels got their first burst of field position a set later, following a rare dangerous tackle from Grant. Shaun Lane accelerated up the left edge, and Dylan Brown seemed poised to head right, but instead followed Lane’s example, momentarily disheveling the Tigers’ defence, resulting in a ball strip from Josh Aloiai. Paulo made the biggest run so far on the next tackle, but was held up over the line, while Nathan Brown lost the ball a play later, giving the Tigers the first big let-off of the evening. Blake Ferguson then collected Benji’s next bomb, and the Eels got the first restart a tackle later, moving the footy across to the left edge rapidly on the second play, and returning there at the end of the set, when Sivo managed to put down the footy despite a shoulder charge from Doueihi, who was put on report as Moses slipped over while attempting to convert from the sideline, keeping the scoreline locked up 4-4. This was the first big acceleration from the Eels, but once again the Tigers got a let-off, as Paulo lost the footy on the restart, while Grant responded with a spectacular run on the next set, dummying multiple times on the third tackle as he headed for the right wing.Embed from Getty Images
Only a big effort from Michael Jennings prevented Grant setting up a tryscoring opportunity, or even scoring himself, but Doueihi matched his hooker’s energy on the other side of the park, sending out a soaring harbour bridge pass that would probably have produced points if Mbye hadn’t struggled to catch it, forcing Tommy Talau to withstand the Parramatta defence as he scrambled to clean it up on the sideline. Nevertheless, Benji steadied the ship by forcing the first dropout of the night, and on the next set Doueihi’s cut-out worked, landing square on the chest of David Nofoaluma, who stormed down the sideline with Sivo in field, planting down the Steeden, rolling over once, and standing up as calmly as if he’d just walked onto the park – the perfect image for his renewed form and vision during 2020. With Mbye adding the first conversion, the Tigers were six ahead, and Packer followed by smashing so hard into Matterson that the ex-Tiger required some calming from Fergo before he was able to walk off the field for an HIA. Meanwhile, Grant accelerated out of dummy half again two tackles later, and Clint Gutherson fumbled a soaring Douehi bomb backwards as a massive kick chase converged on him.
Conversely, Doueihi took the next high ball with aplomb, Benji fended off Jennings on the next carry, and the Tigers got their first restart a play later. They were really starting to accelerate now, as Benji almost sent his fullback through the line, before his men got a fresh burst of field position when Sivo was pinged for his second strip ten metres out from the line, this time on Chris Lawrence. The Tigers opted to take the two, but they would come to regret this decision, since despite strong efforts from Packer and Benji on the next set, the Eels got their mojo back in a big way when Reagan Campbell-Gillard broke through the line next time he got ball in hand. It all started with a brilliant offload from Andrew Davey to Gutherson, who popped the footy across to RCG in turn. From there, the ex-Panther made the best run of his career, seeming to accelerate away from his dark times over the last few years, skidding away from a low tackle from Doueihi and outpacing Talau at the death to slam down a forty-metre try, before Moses made the first conversion of the night to narrow the deficit to two. No surprise, then, that this marked the start of a pretty dominant period for Parra, with Moses levelling the score a few minutes later after Packer was put on report for a crusher tackle.Embed from Getty Images
Moses was even more spectacular eight minutes out from the siren, executing a sublime twenty-metre chip-and-chase, and running through Doueihi to collect the footy on the first bounce and slide to ground behind the posts, all in one perfect balletic motion, before converting his own try a second later. You couldn’t ask for a better way for Moses to return to the park, a better encapsulation of his growing footy genius over the last eighteen months, or a better sequel to RCG’s superb run, since these two massive one-man efforts finally rocked the Eels into first gear after a relatively quiet opening quarter. Moses was just as good with the boot after the break, ending the first set with a bomb that didn’t go as far or as deep as Doueihi seemed to be expecting. Not only was Nofoaluma forced to take it into touch to concede the first dropout back from the sheds, but his foot caught his fullback on the side of the head, making the ex-Rabbitoh the next player to be taken off for an HIA – a big blow for the Tigers after Michael Chee Kam had been stretchered off to hospital following a low tackle on Lane in the first act. Luke Brooks was now back on the field, and Mbye headed to the no. 1 position, as Fergo took the first tackle of the dropout, and the Eels got six again after a touch from the Tiges on the left side of the park.
Moses was a bit kick-happy now, grubbering on the very first play, albeit recollecting the Steeden after it ricocheted off Leilua. The Eels headed left, where they got a restart in the same place where they got six again on the last set, and kept applying pressure here until a pair of wide balls from Mahoney and Dylan Brown set up Lane to put down a Gutho kick right before the dead ball line – a terrific feat given the slippery Steeden – skyrocketing the Eels ahead to a ten point lead, although they stayed there after Moses’ sublime streak came to an end with a shank away to the left of the posts. RCG continued to rack up the run metres on the restart, but Mbye survived a punishing kick chase from Gutho and Dylan Brown, as the Tiges tried to work their way out of their own end, while Sam McIntyre beame the next player to leave the field for an HIA, leaving the visitors with only one man on the bench. A moment later, Blake broke into space up the right wing, and flicked the footy back to Moses, who rolled over to Grant to get the ball down for what would have been an easy try if the pass hadn’t been forward, thanks to a terrific ankle tap from Brooks.Embed from Getty Images
Still, the Tigers continued to decline, as Grant got his second penalty of the night for crowding, and Brown followed by putting a huge hit on Mbye just after he’d collected a Moses bomb, getting Parra the scrum feed from the ten. The first pass out of the huddle was a howler, as Mahoney sent the ball too low, ricocheting it off Blake’s feet and onto the ground, where it sat for about two seconds. The Tigers were unable to scoop it up, and the Eels resumed momentum when Marata Niukore drew in a pack defence to hold him up in front of the posts, but Mahoney made another awkward pass on the next play – an anomalous pair of errors given his service in the slippery conditions – and Moses skidded over while trying to collect it up off the ground, giving the Tigers the scrum feed from the ten in turn. They accelerated a bit on this next set, but still hadn’t played the ball in Parra’s territory since the first half, as Mbye tried to get his own back with a big hit under the high ball on Fergo, who paused for a moment, as if expecting a dangerous tackle, but wasn’t too phased in the end. The Tiges got their next chance after a six again call, when Gutho got a hand to the footy after Mbye knocked a Brooks bomb backwards, and for a moment it seemed like it might pay dividends, with Brooksy making his best run of the night in front of the posts.
He ended with a deft offload to Grant, who lost the footy almost immediately into a tackle from Lane, bringing this brief excursion into the Parramatta twenty to an abrupt close. Parra accelerated back towards the Tigers’ line with their first restart in a while, but missed a few chances on their next set, making this another let-off for the visitors. Nevertheless, they scored their most straightforward try a few sets later, when a fairly standard left edge sweep ended with a harbour bridge ball from Gutho to Sivo, who popped over without too much trouble. Once again, Moses missed the conversion, while the game settled back into a more regular rhythm over the next ten minutes, with both sides going error for error until the Tigers got a boost with a successful Captain’s Challenge to contest a supposed Mbye knock-on. In the end, though, this didn’t do all that much to break the rhythm, as a penalty on Eisenhuth for holding down was quickly succeeded by a mistake from Paulo, as the Eels started to lose some of the incredible energy they’d showcased in the middle forty minutes of the match, perhaps content to rest on their fourteen point advantage as the death knell for the Tigers sounded five minutes out from the end, with a lost ball from Packer right on the line.Embed from Getty Images
For almost the first time during the second half, the Eels were forced to work the football out from their own end, but they’d effectively won the game by this point, so they could afford to be relatively leisurely with the attack.Thee minutes out from the end, Fergo almost put down his first try of the season, bumping off Brooks and leaping into the air, legs apart, like he was doing the splits, before reaching down to ground the footy for what have easily been the best four points of Round 11 if the refs hadn’t discerned a knock-on from Davey in back play. Still, the sheer dominance of this display, which had more in common with gymnastics than footy, said everything about Parra’s vigour – like watching Fergo fuse a try with one of his notorious backflip celebrations. A minute later, Talau put down a consolation try, but this was still a dominant win from Parra, who will be raring to meet the Bulldogs next Sunday afternoon, while the Tigers will need to regroup before taking on the Warriors at the SCG on Friday.
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