ROUND 17: New Zealand Warriors v. Parramatta Eels (Central Coast Stadium, 6/9/20)
Parramatta were keen to come back from a late season slump when they rocked up in Gosford to play the Warriors on Sunday afternoon. The Eels had only conceded two losses before Round 13, but had now lost two of their last three matches, and were struggling with attack in the particular. In their last four games, they’d only scored six tries, while their tally was lower than every team but the Cowboys since Round 9. They got an early burst of field position when Kodi Nikorima’s opening kick went too far, but the Warriors were up to defending seven tackles, as Adam Pompey caught Mitchell Moses’ first bomb on the full with no troubles.
Parra now got the first penalty after Peta Hiku worked on the ground, and Clint Gutherson kicked on play three. While Roger Tuivasa-Sheck managed the bounce he was still bundled into touch by Waqa Blake for the first dropout of the afternoon. Both Junior Paulo and Shaun Lane failed to get offloads away early in the tackle count, Nathan Brown was caught on the ground on the third, and Gutho failed to find a way through on the fourth, but it all came together on the final play.
The Eels got a set restart but didn’t need it, as Lane sent a superb cut-out pass across the chest of Michael Jennings, who drew in Pompey and cleaned up space for Maika Sivo to cross over untouched on the wing. Moses booted the ball away from the posts, but the Eels got a terrific restart, as Blake Ferguson got them rolling by busting through a Jazz Tevaga tackle to bring his men to the forty, before Moses stepped up with two terrific plays.
First Mitch poked his nose through the line for Gutho on the right edge, and then he popped a soaring harbour bridge ball to the left a tackle later, where Lane very nearly broke through a scrambling Warriors defence. Reed Mahoney took advantage of a Nathan Brown offload to build further on this momentum a set later, breaking up the middle of the park and offloading to Gutho, who swiveled left, executed a rapid play-the-ball, and set Moses up for a surprise grubber to the right corner.
The New Zealand defence wasn’t in place, so Fergo would have broken his sixteen-game drought if he hadn’t the fumbled the footy here, although it didn’t dent the Eels’ energy. Moses bombed to the right corner on the next set, where Gerard Beale was safe in his first game back since Round 8, before the Warriors got their first real accumulation of field position off a pair of ruck errors from Waqa Blake and Reagan Campbell-Gillard. Moses bombed to the same spot after the Eels survived this pair of repeat sets, but Blake reached out his right hand to knock it forward instead of tapping it back, while Karl Lawton turned Fergo upside down after the big winger recovered his kick a minute later.
Little by little the Warriors were starting to gain confidence, containing a Paulo offload next time the Eels attacked, and then forcing Moses to dance around for about ten seconds before the play broke down on the next tackle. One again, Moses relied on his boot to build field position, but Roger Tuivasa-Sheck responded with his first real display of footwork to bust through a few tackles and bring the footy back to the thirty.
This had the potential to be one of New Zealand’s best sets so far, but it came to an abrupt end with the key turning-point of the first forty minutes. After Brown got a palm in the face while tackling Tevaga, and returned the favour with a bump in the head, Moses barked out for the play to be sent upstairs, where this battle of the no. 13s ended – incredibly – with Jazz being directed to the bin. Nikorima quickly opted for a second-tackle kick to buy his team some breathing-space, but Hiku waited for it to bounce instead of trying to catch it on the full – and the bounce eluded him, careening back at a crazy angle over the sideline.
While Gutho dropped the footy cold straight out of the subsequent scrum – Parra’s first error of the night – the blue and gold army now out down two high-speed tries that resumed their attacking acumen after the last couple of weeks. Both came up the middle of the park, the first off a linebreak from Gutho, who collected a short ball from Mahoney, stormed through a low tackle from Tohu Harris and kicked at speed under pressure for Jai Field, who also ran into the footy at speed, timing the bounce perfectly to catch and ground it all in one dexterous motion.
The next try was even better, as Mahoney set up Moses to kick through a grubber that initially seemed destined to find either Blake or Harris-Tevita on the right edge, only for the other Blake to collect it, as the Fergosaurus scooped it up at the twenty, tucked it under his right arm, and outpaced RTS to break the longest tryscoring drought of his career with a triumphant four-pointer right beside the posts.
Fergo had scored double digit tries in each of his last eight seasons, so his relief here was contagious – the perfect way for Parramatta to get their attacking mojo back. In slow motion, you could see the conviction on his face as he stormed towards the posts – he was always going to get this – moving from career try 112 to 113 as Tevaga looked on from one of the most damaging and questionable sin bins of the season. Yet the 2020 Warriors have been nothing if not resilient, and they restored the four-point deficit with two of the most extraordinary tries of their season in the five minutes before half time.
The first was one of the greatest team tries in New Zealand history, and started with a Harris-Tevita bomb to the left corner, where Hayze Perham contested Fergo for it in the air, and knocked it back, where Harris-Tevita now collected it and offloaded to RTS, who opted for a left side play, sent it across to Perham via Adam Blair. Seeing that there was nothing doing on his wing, Perham popped it back to Harris-Tevita, who was forced to bounce it across to Hiku, who offloaded to Nikorima for the second kick that Harris-Tevita capped off by chasing down and diving onto the footy just before it crossed the dead ball line.
This would have been a sublime comeback on its own terms, but the Warriors showed they could score a compressed try just as well on the restart, when RTS broke straight through the middle, dodging away from Gutho and offloading at the ten, where Nikorima pulled his hands out of the play, leaving the footy to tumble off his boots and sit up right on the line.
Cometh the hour cometh the man, and Harris-Tevita now iced one of the pivotal periods in his growth as a halfback, storming in to score a double – probably the best single double of the 2020 season – as he scooped up the ball perfectly and got it down in one clean motion. With the second successive conversion slotted through the posts, he’d scored all sixteen points so far for New Zealand, sending his men into the sheds with total confidence in their ability to come back big over the final forty.
They didn’t quite get the last word, however, as Moses snuck in a 40/20 before the siren, and the Eels came back from the sheds rolling, while the Warriors only got to the second tackle of their first set due to an obstruction penalty for Tevaga, who was having a tough afternoon of it, although Hiku did well to catch Moses’ next chip on the full after the set slowed down around Ryan Matterson on the fourth. Isaiah Papali’i now stepped into the spotlight as he collided with Fergo on the first, and Harris-Tevita did well with the boot on the last, dummying left before opting for a sneaky grubber that Gutho was forced to clean up in goal, gifting New Zealand their first dropout of the game.
Nevertheless, Moses won the next battle of the halfbacks, collecting Harris-Tevita’s kick on the full after the Warriors’ no. 7 lost a valuable second with a brief fumble before he put ball to boot. The hosts didn’t have to wait long for their next shot, however, as Papali’i followed his great ram into Fergo by forcing a cough-up from Mahoney.
Hiku stormed along the left side on play one, Papali’i straightened on the second, and Blair drew in three defenders on the third, but Harris-Tevita looked in vain for an offload on the fourth. For a moment it looked like everything had come together on the last with a RTS pass to Perham, and a flick from Perham to Beale, but the flick was forward, as the Eels got out of their own end with their fifth penalty – New Zealand had none – when Wayde Egan was called offside within the ten.
The game was starting to get messy, as Kane Evans now sent out a forward pass to Ray Stone on play two, and RTS put it down on play one, losing the Steeden out of his right armpit as he came to ground beneath a big hit from Stone. Paulo lost it on play one out of the subsequent scrum, but enough was enough, as Moses sent the play upstairs for the Bunker to deem that Harris had dislodged the footy with his left hand, even if this didn’t resemble your classic strip. Parra had to build on this shift in momentum, and came up with a potential tryscoring sequence at the end of the subsequent set, when a Moses grubber played pinball with both the attack and defence.
The replay showed that Papali’i played at it, before the footy hit Matterson, but in the interim it came off Moses, who was just in front of Matto, whose right leg was onside, his left offside. This accidental offside was enough to deny the try, giving the Warriors an even better boost than Parra got off their successful Captain’s Challenge a minute before, especially since they now received a penalty as Mahoney was offside post-contact on Matterson when he put down the footy.
The game briefly paused when Sivo was examined for injury, while Blake was the next man down, clutching his ankle before hobbling back into the field of play, and Mahoney was off for the night with an injury as Nathan Brown trotted back on earlier than expected. New Zealand were the next to call a Captain’s Challenge when Josh Curran lost his first touch of the football into Paulo – a pretty risky decision, so it wasn’t surprising when the replay showed that he had indeed lost possession into the big prop, as the game took another shift in Parra’s favour, compounded when Perham conceded an offside penalty a moment later.
With a four-point difference and no tries since the break, it was starting to seem like the next try might be the match-winner, as the Eels now came up with a pretty uninspired set, ending with a pair of standard runs from Evans and Matterson – even if big Kane did take a few defenders over the line – followed by the boldest defence of the night from Egan, who blocked and then chased down Moses’ kick on the last. Gutho was safe under the next high ball, but the Warriors bunched Parra in their own end on the next set, containing Fergo better than any other point in the night, and forcing Moses to boot the ball from within Parra’s forty.
At first this looked like the perfect kick, decelerating like clockwork towards the dead ball line, but Beale held his ground in the best stand-off with the Steeden all night, letting it find touch to give his men seven tackles to play with. Harris-Tevita came up with a wonky kick on the last, but Nikorima punched it back for Murchie to swing out to Hiku, forcing Jennings to really scramble to recover possession.
Moses opted for a bomb next time around, and RTS was safe beneath it, as the Warriors settled into another muscular set. Yet the next two tries came off pretty average sets, relying in both cases on last-ditch vision with the boot. The first came from Moses, who popped a superb chip to the right corner seventeen minutes out. There was virtually no contest for the ball, allowing Blake to leap up, catch it on the full, and smash through Harris-Tevita, Beale and Papali’i for another six points once Moses bookended the play by booting through the extras.
The next kick came from Beale, who found himself at the end of a deft left sweep through RTS and Perham, and got ball to boot under considerable pressure from Fergo right along the sideline. Perham was back in position to slam his chest onto the Steeden as Brown and Matto tumbled on top of him, keeping the football safe and close to secure the first try of his NRL career. Harris-Tevita’s kick looked as if it was going to spray wide, but instead curved around between the posts at the last minute, although Moses shot the next kick through, adding a penalty kick at the seventy-fifth minute following an offside penalty for Lawton.
The Warriors got two big chances to take the game to golden point as the siren approached – an error from Gutho, and a penalty for Jenko for lying in the ruck – but the Eels stayed strong, coming away with a six point win that ultimately won’t do much to allay their attacking concerns after their recent form. They’ll be looking to pour on the points, then, when they meet Penrith next Friday night, while the Warriors can hold their heads high when they take on Cronulla on Sunday.
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