ROUND 19: Parramatta Eels v. Brisbane Broncos (Bankwest Stadium, 18/9/20)
The Broncos were desperate to avoid the first wooden spoon in club history when they met Parra on Friday night, while the Eels were desperate to redeem themselves after a spotty couple of games, culminating with their 2-20 loss to Penrith the week before. That said, they were still sitting on fourth, had Reed Mahoney back on the park, and had Matterson’s 100th to motivate them, while Ben Te’o and Joe Ofahengaue were taking the brunt of Brisbane’s front row with Lodge, Flegler, Kennedy and Haas out.
Andrew Davey got the Broncos fired up with a good opening tackle on Patrick Carrigan, who got another run a play later, but not without Mahoney giving him the same treatment. The hits got bigger with the Eels’ first touch of the footy, when Maika Sivo slammed into Tyson Gamble, who copped the full impact of his shoulder on the jaw, and almost had to be stretchered off the park – a pretty grim moment for the Brisbane spine after Brodie Croft was knocked out cold in training.
With Xavier Coates subbing on fifty-nine seconds in, the game effectively restarted, as both teams went set for set over the next couple of minutes. Waqa Blake leaped up to knock back a Mitchell Moses bomb, and Ofahengaue came close to the first offload, but the tipping-point came when Sivo coughed up a Tom Dearden kick, leaving it open for Richie Kennar to scoop in and slam over, albeit not without Kennar and Coates both called offside in the build-up.
In fact, half the Brisbane players seemed to be offside under Dearden’s bomb, a sloppy bit of organisation that galvanised Parra into their first effort to run the footy on the last – a cut-out ball from Jai Field to Michael Jennings, followed by the first offload from Jenko back to Field. It wasn’t a very convincing play, though, since Kotoni Staggs spearheaded a pack effort to drag the young five-eighth over the sideline without too much trouble.
Mahoney conceded the first Parramatta penalty a tackle later, for being offside within the ten, and Carrigan coughed it up a tackle after that, dropping the ball cold as he slammed into Matterson. Kane Evans ripped his jersey open trying to get an offload out the back, as the Eels’ attack reached a new intensity, crystallising around an extremely late offload from Davey, but Clint Gutherson knocked on after his kick ricocheted off Te’o, and another try went begging.
Herbie Farnworth and Te’o channeled Parra’s thwarted adrenalin with massive runs to start the next set, but Gutho recovered by collecting the most dangerous bomb so far – a huge floating effort from Dearden. Blake Ferguson was raring to break through on the right edge, drawing in Corey Oates for two separate carries, and yet Moses couldn’t do much with this proximity to the line, ricocheting his kick off Staggs much as Gutho’s had off Te’o on the previous set.
With ten minutes on the clock, both teams had brought enough energy for several tries, so it felt as if the first outfit to score might be able to coast on that momentum for a long time – even the Broncos, who were largely matching the Eels in terms of focus and intensity. Parra got the first restart a set later, and while Carrigan made his best tackle so far on Nathan Brown – he’d go on to have a huge night – the Eels started to really elasticize on their right edge, where Jenko and Field linked up better.
This time Moses’ bomb was also more remunerative, forcing a knock-on from Farnworth and tempting an offload from Dearden that provided Parra with the first repeat set of the night. In the spirit of this particular game, though, Mahoney coughed up the first pass much as Carrigan had on the back of Mahoney’s own offside penalty. The Eels got another early restart a set later, and this time Moses opted to run the footy, sending out a harbour bridge ball to Fergo that sailed straight over the sideline.
It was one of the worst passes of the year – worrying stuff on the cusp of finals football – making it seven errors for the blue and gold, most of which had come from their key playmakers. Nevertheless, both teams stabilised over the next few minutes, despite Farnworth clamouring for a Fergo knock-on, until the momentum shifted again when Oates knocked on the high ball, gifting Parra their second repeat set of the evening.
There hadn’t been a Brisbane game in 2020 that remained 0-0 at the twenty-minute mark, and for a moment it looked like Fergo might maintain that record after making his way up the right edge out of the scrum. The Broncos conceded more field position when Te’o was offside within the ten, before Ferguson got his try after all, at the tail end of the first really good right side sweep all night, culminating with a harbour bridge ball from Gutho that corrected Moses’ botched wide ball to Fergo five minutes before.
Moses missed the sideline conversion, and while the try was hampered by the question of whether Gutho’s pass had been forward, the Eels used the restart to provide what had been missing from the entire game so far – real consolidation. Three tackles in, Mahoney bumped off Ofahengaue and sliced up the middle, shifting the footy at the thirty to Gutho, who offloaded at the twenty for Moses to come down at the ten – just the spinal synergy that Parra needed to get themselves back into the game.
This would have been a consolidation point on its own terms, but Moses provided the perfect sequel, dashing across the ruck and taking full ownership of his poor pass to Fergo with a sublime cut-out ball to the left edge. Sivo caught it on the fly, landed on his left foot, and pivoted it down with his right arm – a display of gymnastic perfection that looked like he’d just strolled or danced over the line, despite the cluster of Brisbane defenders, before Moses booted through the first conversion of the game.
The Eels got a dropout on the restart, but the wet weather defied Moses early in the tackle count, producing a handling error that marked the start of a brief Brisbane resurgence. At the end of one of their stronger sets, Dearden carried the Steeden deep into the line and popped a short one out to David Fifita, who twisted through a tackle from Moses and went low, sliding onto the sodden turf with Fergo on his back.
This was a tough try, narrowing the deficit to four points once Staggs added the extras, but the Eels bounced back with two quick tries. Junior Paulo got them rolling on his first carry, popping out a deft offload to Moses, who made a good twenty metres before he came to ground at the twenty. After a rapid sweep to the left, Paulo took another carry, and while he didn’t get any second phase play this time, Moses’ grubber forced Oates to ground it in goal just before Waqa Blake could get a hand to it.
The Eels’ had appropriated all the energy of Brisbane’s restart – they were playing like they’d scored the last try – and that belief came to fruition now, as Moses passed on the last to Gutho, whose kick ricocheted off the defence again, but at the perfect angle for him to regather it, slam over, and score. Just as Moses’ Sivo assist had corrected his wide ball to Fergo, so Gutho had made good on his unlucky ricochet earlier in the game, stamping this second quarter as a reboot of the Parramatta spine.
Moses was always going to slot it through from the sideline, and the Eels were now in peak flow, while the rain was also flowing down, and seemed to be working in their favour, since they’d got better as the weather got heavier. Matto had his best run of the night on the restart to get his men six again, Fergo broke through the line, and a Jamil Hopoate knock-on gifted Parra one fresh burst at the chalk, which they used to put down their most clinical try so far.
It happened straight out of the scrum, as Gutho showed he could cut through the defence as economically on the right edge as the left, thanks in part to a good decoy run from Blake that drew in Farnworth and opened up space on the wing. While Moses missed the extras, this was starting to feel more like a 2020 Brisbane game, as the visitors failed to find any more momentum before half time, and headed to the sheds needing a Parramatta error to get them back into the second stanza.
They got lucky, since while Paulo managed a neat offload on the Eels’ first carry, he was put on report for a dangerous tackle on Fifita a set later – a nasty one to watch in real time, as the big second-rower twisted tortuously while Matterson and Oregon Kaufusi piled on top of him. Fifita was helped off the park as Te’o came back earlier than expected, but this blow steeled Brisbane into their strongest set in some time, ending with Paulo trapped at fullback as Staggs threaded the needle to force a dropout.
The repeat set was pretty average, until Darius Boyd marked his pentultimate game with a superb try assist – a well-weighted kick that set up Farnworth to gather the Steeden into his chest and just get it to ground as Fergo tumbled over a Brisbane tryscorer for the second time. This was poor reaction time from the Eels, narrowing the gap to eight once Staggs converted, but once again they prevented the Broncos from going back-to-back, putting down their fifth and final try a few minutes later.
This was the best turnaround of the game, since Brisbane followed with their best restart, and best set start of the night. Cometh the hour cometh the man, and Ethan Bullemor now collected the footy from Boyd in goal, bumped off Mahoney at the ten, fended off Gutho at the twenty, and only came to ground beneath Sivo on the brink of halfway. Issac Luke added more metres, but Bullemor’s brilliant push went out the window when Staggs went low and accidentally copped Jenko’s elbow in the head.
Brisbane still got the penalty, and glimpsed a few opportunities, most notably a cut-out pass from Staggs to Kennar that Sivo shut down, but the set ended with the biggest gaffe so far – Luke looking away from the play to lodge a protest instead of competing for the footy when it rolled back beside him. This was the last straw for Brisbane, ushering in a dominant Parra set that started with Fergo bringing it back over the twenty to get his men a restart, and Matto trampling over Hoppa midway up the park.
Kennar caught Moses’ bomb on the full in goal, took a quick tap, and made his way to the thirty. For a brief moment it looked like Brisbane might get back into Bullemor’s splendid groove when Hopoate got a deft offload out to Luke, but the Brisbane hooker made his second fatal error, sending the footy wide to Field, who scooped it up, bumped off Dearden and went all the way, utterly decimating whatever residue of Bullemor’s run remained as he crashed over in the left corner untouched.
There was half an hour left on the clock, and yet neither team would score again, although Parra came close twice. Their next almost-try came pretty quickly, as Blake chased down a Moses bomb, accelerating beyond Farnworth, Coates and eventually Staggs, before reaching out a hand to graze the Steeden at the very moment that he made contact with the dead ball line – an even luckier result for Brisbane in that Oates had made contact first, meaning this was almost another Parramatta dropout.
The next near-try came ten minutes out from half time, and would have been one of the most contentious calls of the 2020 season if Henry Perenara hadn’t shown the good sportsmanship to acknowledge his error. It was almost as simple as Parra’s last putdown – a wide ball from Moses to the right edge, where Gutho made one of the most elegant and delicate tap-ons I’ve ever seen to send the Fergausaurus over for what seemed like a certain try.
Instead, Perenara blew the whistle, mistaking the tap-on for a knock-on, and leaving the Eels with no recourse other than a Captain’s Challenge, with the Bunker’s willingness to rule implying – amazingly – that a tap-on doesn’t technically count as a pass. Moses and Gutho were ropeable, but didn’t manage to translate that rage into more points, so Parra have some soul-searching to do before they take on the Tigers next week, despite coming away with the competition points here.
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