ROUND 10: New Zealand Warriors v. Parramatta Eels (Suncorp Stadium, 16/5/21, 18-34)

Despite the concerns about COVID protocols early in the week, Parramatta were looking good heading into New Zealand’s home game at Suncorp for the last day of Magic Round. They’d scored over thirty points in each of their last four games – 144 points in total – and had Waqa Blake back on the park for the first time since Round 1. Brad Arthur’s son Jakob was making his NRL debut at five-eighth with Dylan Brown suspended, and scored an emotional first try in the final ten minutes of the match.

No surprise, perhaps, that the Eels won here, but they didn’t unleash the torrent of points you might have expected during the second stanza, due to a combination of inopportune stoppages and a pair of aborted tries on the right wing from Ryan Matterson and Blake Ferguson. During that critical period, the Warriors, who had Jazz Tevaga back at prop and Euan Aitken back in the centres, came close to a comeback, forcing the Parramatta spine to double down on their leadership to save the day.

Clint Gutherson took the kickoff with two-thirds of Suncorp in afternoon sunlight, and Tohu Harris brought it back as the celebration smoke cleared from the ground. Chanel Harris-Tevita kicked on the fourth, but the Eels waited until the last, when Arthur took his first kick in the NRL. Meanwhile, Gutho was a bit ginger on his feet after rolling his ankle in his first tackle, but he seemed to recover as Chanel popped out an awkward pass to Rocco Berry, who lost it on the wing.

The Warriors held up Isaiah Papali’i to prevent a left sweep on the third from reaching the wing, and Harris-Tevita made up for his error with an ankle tap on Arthur on the other side of the park. Still, Parra got a fresh set when Adam Pompey charged down, and knocked down, a Ryan Matterson kick up the left sideline. Reagan Campbell-Gillard racked up early metres with a couple of big charges, and the Eels got a restart when Jazz Tevaga infringed the ruck right in front of the posts.

Finally, four tackles into the next set, this accumulation of field position proved too much for the Warriors, as Mitch Moses ran into three defenders and flicked it out for Nathan Brown to curve around behind the posts to celebrate inking his next two years at Parramatta this week. Moses added the extras and Arthur followed Chanel by booting it on the fourth. The Eels had won 24 of their last 25 games when they’d scored the first try, so New Zealand had to regather pretty rapidly here.

Maika Sivo got his first touch of the match beneath Kodi Nikorima’s next high ball, and Mahoney almost bumped off Nikorima and Jamayne Taunoa-Brown out of dummy half, while the Eels got a penalty on the next Warriors set, when Ben Murdoch-Masila was pinged for obstructing Moses. Yet Taunoa-Brown reversed the momentum immediately, storming in to spearhead a big pack tackle on Junior Paulo that rattled the Steeden loose, only for Harris to cough it up as well on the very next play.

Paulo now made up for his error with a mad charge at the line, off a Moses pass, on the right edge, and while he was held up, the Eels showed they could capitalise on the other side, thanks to a superb trio of wide balls from Mahoney, Moses and Gutho that put Sivo across in the corner. Berry’s defence was decent, but it still wasn’t enough to prevent Maika at speed. He had his 47th try in his 56th game in the NRL, while Moses boot was just as true from the side, bringing Parramatta to twelve unanswered points.

On the other side of the Steeden, Wayde Egan now left the field for an HIA, bringing Josh Curran on earlier than expected. Paulo, Mahoney and Fergo were clinical up the middle on the restart, and while Bailey Sironen prevented Arthur from continuing their momentum, the Eels still got a penalty in front of the posts when Murdoch-Masila was put on report for a second encounter with Moses. Again, Paulo almost made it to the line, and again the Eels scored on the very next play.

This time they didn’t have to shift to the left, as RCG translated his already considerable run metres into a try beneath the posts. Receiving a short ball from Mahoney, who currently has the most assists in the competition, he simply twist and spun through RTS and Tevaga, setting up Moses for the easiest conversion of the afternoon. By this stage the Eels were seriously dominating possession, with 9/10 completed sets compared to the Warriors’ 2/5 – and they didn’t slow down on the restart.

Early in the set, Moses got his own back with Murdoch-Masila, pivoting off the left boot to break away from the big second-rower, while dodging around a low tackle from Harris. He swayed, recovered his balance, and stormed up the park, popping the footy across to RCG just as RTS was coming in for the hit, while Reagan responded with some deft footwork of his own, veering right to get away from Chanel and go from 11 to 13 NRL tries in two minutes. Again, Moses converted, and the Eels were 24-0.

Finally, the Warriors got a chance to augment their 26% possession. Ken Maumalo came close on the fourth tackle of their next set, breaking away from Fergo and forcing Gutho and Arthur to come in as last line of defence on the left wing. Ashley Klein actually sent it upstairs, where the Bunker not only denied the try, but discerned an obstruction from Adam Pompey, who must have breathed a sigh of relief when the Eels got to the end of their next set without scoring another four points.

Yet Pompey was a liability on the last play here too, concluding New Zealand’s first really elastic sequence – from the left side to the right, including a 25-metre ball from Chanel – by booting the footy straight into Gutho’s lap. The Warriors got a much-needed restart on their next set, off a ruck error from Nathan Brown, and then a penalty for a dangerous tackle from Moses, making this their first real accumulation of field position. It was critical, then, that they score their first try now.

Bunty Afoa came close, almost using the right post as leverage to follow RCG beneath the crossbar, but it all came apart on the third tackle, when Chanel lost the ball into the full brunt of the Parramatta defence. The Eels got a restart of their own on play one, off a ruck error from Euan Aitken, and with Oregon Kaufusi smashing Egan into outer space it was as if this brief surge of New Zealand possession had never happened, even if Harris-Tevita did manage to collect a bad Nathan Brown pass a second later.

The Warriors got a let-off on tackle three, when Berry took the footy into touch, but Klein insisted, over an inconclusive replay, that Tom Opacic had got a fingertip to it. Yet with captain and fullback RTS dropping the ball on the first tackle there was a kind of impotence to New Zealand at this point in the game – a sense that they weren’t going to be able to make the most of any opportunities they got until there was a major shift in momentum, forcing them to curb Parra with a largely defensive outlook.

They did well on the very next set, when Berry made the most of a poor pass from Gutho to Sivo to bump his opposing winger into touch. As it turned out, this was the turning-point, a testament to the power of relying on defence to build momentum, since the Warriors got a restart early in their set, and this time got to a productive last-tackle option – a strong bomb from Chanel, followed by a strong contest from Nikorima, who outleaped Moses beside the left post to tap it back for Curran to score.

This was also the first time in the match that the New Zealand halves had really synced, while Curran was fired up as Nikorima slotted through the conversion, barking orders at his men to galvanise them into a decent restart. This would have been a perfect juncture for the Warriors to consolidate, five minutes out from half time, but once again Pompey was the liability, flicking the footy forward on the penultimate play to deny Maumalo’s kick – and things got worse when Afoa was taken off for an HIA.

Blake had his best charge of the game on the next set, but Walsh made an impact just as quickly, gathering up a bad Arthur ball and breaking through the line for forty metres on play one, only for Chanel to lob it over the sideline a tackle later. Papali’i played havoc with the ruck to work his way into the twenty on the next set, but Chanel made up for his error by diving on the kick and then getting his men a final restart in this first stanza by tempting a ruck infringement from Mahoney.

The Warriors got one last glimpse of a second try with a beautiful wide ball from Walsh to Maumalo, who sent it off the left boot at speed to force the first dropout of the match with thirteen seconds on the clock. Gutho booted it far enough to ensure that New Zealand couldn’t even get to the Parramatta twenty, keeping the Eels quadruple the hosts at 24-6 heading into the break as the shadows crept over the Suncorp grass. 

Moses’ first bomb back was directly towards the last sunny sliver on the field, defying RTS as he leaped up to collect it, although the Eels didn’t get a chance to capitalise immediately since play was halted for Murdoch-Masila to leave the park with a jaw injury. Mahoney, Papali’i and Shaun Lane all tried to charge through the line, before Lane took a second carry and Moses shifted it left, where a good read from Nikorima forced him to rely on the kick as the main playmaking option on this particular set.

He came through, too, sending it on a string to the right side of the park, where Blake managed to make contact with the Steeden amidst a sea of hands, and tap it back to Arthur, who popped it across to Matterson for a relaxed try on the wing. Moses wasn’t as good with the next kick though, dragging the conversion attempt across the front of the posts. Still, the Eels were 32-6, and got a penalty late in the restart off a lazy arm on Bryce Cartwright from Lesson Ah Mau.

Moses barged through four Warriors and came close to smashing over three tackles later, but again a pause cost Parra some momentum, as play was halted to contend with a hyperextended shoulder for Curran, who left the park for Tevaga a minute after. Papali’i tried to resume the rhythm by charging at the line in Moses’ wake, and Mahoney got them back into the groove with a well-timed grubber on the last that Aitken was forced to ground in goal.

Arthur came up with his first great kick in the NRL – a chip to the right wing that bounced obliquely back to the Parramatta attack – and the Eels got a fresh set off a RTS error on the other side of the park, before Taunoa-Brown was pinged for crowding a barnstorming run from Papali’i. This was the first real pressure the Eels had applied since the break, as their attack got more elastic and focused, culminating with a repeat of the last tryscoring formation – Moses, Arthur and Matterson on the right edge.

This time, however, Matterson lost the football as he was grounding it – and this error, combined with the two big pauses since the break, put a pin in what should have been a torrent of Parramatta points over the second stanza. The putdown was agonizingly close too, since Matto got it to ground right before the line, and could have used the somersaulting tackle of Pompey to take it over with him, but fumbled it at the very last second – a great comeback for Pompey after his spotty plays during the first half.

With two carbon copy tries here the Eels might have built a real sense of flow over the last half hour, but instead they only scored six more points, leaving space for the Warriors to put down twelve more points – and ratifying Brad Arthur’s caution about defence during the break. That said, the Warriors didn’t flourish immediately – they were completing at 56% and didn’t even get to the end of the next set, after a restart off a Cartwright ruck error, with an unforced error from Murdoch-Masila.

The Parramatta focus continued to decline as Kaufusi lost the footy on the next tackle – and this seemed to galvanise the New Zealand side, who responded with their most expansive set since the break. Walsh showcased his left foot step twice on tackle two, and while Egan had to surrender on the next play, Murdoch-Masila caught a Tevaga ball at speed and stormed over Mahoney to score the fiftieth try of Magic Round, undoing his chin stitches so that blood was streaming down his beard.

Like Pompey, Murdoch-Masila now had some closure after an inconsistent game, narrowing the scoreline to sixteen after Nikorima added a fast, sharp kick from right in front. He made five post-contact metres early in the restart, and once again the Warriors expanded, as Walsh ended with the most dangerous kick of the night – a floating left-footer that bounced back at a crazy angle, but somehow ended up with Gutho, who was lucky to get to it before the chase arrived.

Moses tried to steady the ship with a bomb on the next set, and the Eels gathered around him, as Paulo scooped up the tap-back, and Moses sent an enormous parabola ball across to Sivo, who booted it in goal to force a dropout from Walsh. The pass from Moses was absolutely stunning, while in its totality this was the best team dropout of the season – and one of the most immediately remunerative, since the Eels got a penalty from right in front when Walsh failed to get the kick away in time.

This was a bit rough on Walsh, who couldn’t find the ball – they’re in the bucket every time, but he’s also a younger player – and initially looked like it might galvanise the Eels into a dominant final quarter, since they condensed the brilliance of their pre-dropout sequence into their fastest sequence so far. It all ended with Fergo storming over on the wing, but he had almost too much energy behind him, pivoting off the left boot and slamming the Steeden down as if the try was a foregone conclusion.

As a result, he bounced rather than planted the footy to earth, fusing the supposed try with the tryscoring celebration so that you’d had to believe he’d scored the four. As if two knock-ons in the putdown on this wing weren’t bad enough, the Warriors reversed the entire thrust of this dropout sequence when Walsh forced a dropout from Fergo himself on the very next set. They got six again off a ruck error from Mahoney, Moses was pinged for a high hit, and Walsh smashed over for a try a moment later.

In one explosive sequence, Parra had failed to score what seemed like a certain try, and Walsh had gone from a dropout penalty to forcing a dropout, and had then scored the best one-man try of the game. Receiving the footy out of dummy half right on the line, he also made the best single step of the match, pivoting and showing it off the left boot to draw in and deceive Gutho and (distantly) Maiko, before swerving through Arthur to slam down four points that Nikorima was always going to convert in front.

The Warriors now had all the flow behind them, as Murdoch-Masila slammed RCG to ground on the first hit of the restart, and Pompey offloaded through an ankle tap to Bayley Sironen for another superb elastic sequence. The Eels had to recover their composure on the next set, since we were down to a ten point game with fifteen on the clock, and so Moses drove it long and hard down the field to get some position.

Still, the Warriors’ big men were indefatigable, as Harris dragged Moses and Opacic over the sideline, and Maumalo made massive metres down the left edge, offloading it back inside to Chanel at the very last second. Sure, Aitken knocked on a second later on the right wing, but you sensed this error wouldn’t really dent the Warriors’ momentum. Among other things, they’d made the last six linebreaks, after the Eels made the first four, and were flexing into one of their potentially best quarters of 2021.

RTS came close to a linebreak on the next set, and Nikorima moved up the middle off a quick play-the-ball, but the play came apart a little around him, forcing Murdoch-Masila to concede the tackle. This was the break the Eels needed, and Fergo responded by falling onto his back, beneath a huge leap from Pompey, to collect the high ball as he slammed to ground. Carty consolidated further with a deft offload to Paulo, and Moses bombed left, where it was tapped back to Matterson in another history repeat.

Once again, Matterson was unable to come up with the right play on this right edge, kicking it straight into the lap of New Zealand, who in turned seemed further motivated by seeing this Parramatta set come apart. For a few sets, both teams were finally riding the wave of this new adrenalin injection, as the Warriors failed to get down their next try, and the Eels started to rise to the challenge, gradually building up momentum again as the last ten minutes arrived, and finally getting their defensive line in order.

They got the upper hand again seven minutes out from the siren, when the Warriors swept right off a Nikorima kick, only for Harris to send it forward past Aitken over the sideline. Paulo had a terrific run out of the scrum, racking up about five metres after contact, and Moses garnered another dropout with a grubber and chase that forced Chanel to pop it dead just behind the try line. Walsh went short with the dropout but Sivo came up with it, and the Eels ended by finally getting their second right side try.

Even better, Arthur got a try on his debut, shaping as if to pop it out to the wing, only to skid past Chanel and Maumalo to get the footy down. Moses now left the field with an ankle complaint, but Gutho was just as good from the sideline, booting it through straight and true to put Parra at 34 points. Despite two successive linebreaks from RTS and Walsh, the Warriors never got another point on the board, while also losing their Captain’s Challenge in the last minutes as they tried to contest an error from Roger.

The Eels now have their fifth straight win since the start of last season, putting them in good shape to take on the Sea Eagles next week. It wasn’t all smooth sailing though, and the spectacle of Moses leaving the field, and Fergo struggling in the final sets, was worrying as well. On the other side of the Steeden, the Warriors can feel proud of that scintillating passage of play in the third quarter – and will be looking to draw on it when they host the Tigers at Central Coast Stadium next Friday night.  

About Billy Stevenson (751 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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