ROUND 14: Parramatta Eels v. Wests Tigers (Bankwest Stadium, 13/6/21, 40-12)

From one perspective, the Tigers were on a bit of a roll when they rocked up to play Parra at Bankwest on Sunday afternoon, having won three of their last four matches, and their last two straight, over Penrith and St. George. Yet they’d only won three in a row four times since they played finals footy back in 2011, while Parra were looking for seven straight over their western rivals, who had never beaten them at Bankwest, and never got closure after the bloodbath that christened in their new shared home ground.

Both teams had changes to their lineup, with Joey Lussick starting at hooker after only twenty minutes of first grade this year, and Billy Walters replacing Moses Mbye at five-eighth, fresh off a knee reconstruction. Perhaps that’s why it felt like a fairly even contest for the first thirty minutes, and even a winnable game for the Tigers at the end of the first stanza, when a bizarre botched combo from Mitch Moses and Clint Gutherson paved the way for a 36th minute try from Jacob Liddle that turned a potential 20-0 scoreline into a more manageable 14-6.

Nevertheless, Moses brought it all together in the first ten minutes back from the sheds, with one of the most scintillating periods of his Parra career – an end-to-end try, and then a break and assist on the restart, that single-handedly cemented this as a blue and gold landslide. Between those two plays, Moses also consolidated his vision and leadership for the rest of the game, which he capped off with a penalty kick right on the final siren, for what would turn into a key part of the highlight reel that got him the Origin gig in Nathan Cleary’s absence.

Alex Twal took the first run into a full-strength Eels defence, Joe Ofahengaue made a couple of post-contact metres on the backup from Origin, and Twal took a second run, standing for an age in the defence before Luke Brooks booted it all the way to the Parramatta ten. Reagan Campbell-Gillard also took two runs on the first blue and gold set, and brought it over the halfway line on the second, before Brooks saved a messy offload from Luke Garner, twenty out from the Tigers’ line, on tackle two.

Yet this brief moment of precarity galvanised Brooksy into an early run up the left edge, where Walters took his first kick of the night. David Nofoaluma followed in his halfback’s wake by taking it left on the next return, but the Tigers drifted right pretty quickly, where Adam Doueihi made the first error of the afternoon by misreading a James Roberts double pump. Moses fed the scrum on the halfway line, and barked out his unhappiness with the way the visitors packed it, as the Eels got stuck into their first full set in the opposition half.

Clint Gutherson took them into the twenty with solid post-contacts up the left, and Dylan Brown followed with a dexterous run to hit the ten on the other side of the park. The Eels shifted left, Moses chipped right, Ryan Matterson tapped it back, and the footy changed hands a couple of times before Junior Paulo was cleaned up by the Tigers defence. Yet Parra took a chance on a captain’s challenge for the penultimate play, when Daine Laurie had come in low on Tom Opacic, and got pretty lucky when the Bunker ratified their decision.

In slow motion, it looked like Laurie only touched the footy before Opacic shaped the pass, but the call was that he’d knocked on, meaning that Parra went from a full set in the Tigers’ half to a full set in the Tigers’ twenty. Brown continued to give Brooks a run for his money with running the football, driving it deep into the right corner for a second time, before Luciano Leilua got his men off the hook with a tough take right on the chalk, and the visitors were boosted off their line when Nathan Brown gave away the first penalty, for high contact.

James Tamou had them at the halfway line by play two, so it was agonising when Laurie made his second straight error, and an unforced error at that, slipping to the ground as he wavered between two passing options out on the left edge. Parra had another scrum, this time from their own forty, but Nathan Brown followed Laurie with a second straight error, on tackle two, and also unforced – a forward pass out to RCG, whose drift across field made this look a little more egregious than it actually was.

Wests now had their first full set in the opposition half, but looked set to spend most of it outside the thirty, before Tommy Talau replicated Brooksy’s earlier run up the left to bring his men to the brink of the red zone. Brooks consolidated with a good kick, but it was eclipsed, as was Talau’s run, by a mad Opacic dash up the right edge, and then an illegal strip from Nofoaluma, ushering Parramatta into their first real burst of acceleration, as Isaiah Papali’i took it into the ten with a barnstorming run on the very next tackle.

It felt almost inevitable, then, when Moses focused the play on the left edge, where Nathan Brown made up for his two errors with a beautiful offload assist that sent Gutho over an ankle tap from Leilua and through a last-ditch hit from Laurie for the first four points of the afternoon. Moses booted it straight and true from the sideline to make it 800 career points, and Gutho had equalled his best ever try tally for a season, so the Tigers had to really staunch this flow on the restart, lest the blue and gold unleash a torrent of points now.

They were inside the twenty halfway through the set, thanks in part to some restless footwork from Waqa Blake up the left, where Papali’i followed with a late offload, and Lussick took the kick. Garner now came up with a play that was every bit as heroic as a try, and went some way towards neutralising Gutho’s crossover. Collecting the footy beneath the posts, he curved back in goal, bumped off RCG, and made his way back through two Parramatta defenders to plant it, try-style, just over the chalk, back in the field of play.

Unfortunately it all ended with a Parra penalty, since Lussick took a pretty overt dive when Twal stood his ground, taking advantage of the slightest arm contact to milk another two points as Moses booted through the first penalty goal of the game. This somewhat soured the strength and speed of the Eels’ first six points, even if the Tigers survived the next restart, and made their way back over the halfway line late in the next set. They needed to, since they were sitting at 5-22 tackles in opposition territory. 

They got a mini letoff when Gutho reached a boot back over the line to take the high ball, but hit the goal area a fraction too early to garner seven tackles, although they got the space anyway with a restart off a Tamou ruck error. Moses felt omniscient now, sizing up every option when they hit the twenty. Brown was just as good, trapping Laurie behind the line with a well-weighted grubber for the first dropout. Yet Brooksy went short, and Doueihi got it back, while the Tiges got their own six again when Paulo infringed the ruck.

This was a big enough shift in momentum to bring the Tigers to the twenty, as Brooks bombed to the right edge, where Doueihi totally misread the angle, leaving it open for Maika Sivo to clean up in both hands on the bounce. Paulo started working his way back from his error with a deft offload to Brown, who treated the next kick as a consolidator, booting it long and high from the forty to regain the field position that the Tigers ended up reclaiming anyway early in the next set, when they received yet another six again, thanks to a Lussick ruck error.

Brooks was running out of options now, reprising his same kick to the left edge, with a little more height, but not enough to defy Blake as he leaped above the chase to collect it. With a Leilua offside, a barnstorming run from Nathan Brown, and a ruck error from Alex Seyfarth, who had been brimming with energy since he joined the park, the Eels had restored their flow, and were at the ten by tackle three, as Opacic landed on a Brown grubber just shy of the line, but couldn’t quite maintain possession as he tumbled over it and in goal.

In an effort to accelerate beyond that brief Tigers surge, the Eels had ended up overtaking themselves, meaning the visitors had a chance to reclaim their adrenalin as their own if they could control the next couple of sets. The Tiges got their chance early in the next Parra set, and their first real goal line attack, when Doueihi cleaned up a messy Sivo tap-back, giving his men a full set inside the Parramatta red zone. Yet the play came apart on the right edge, when Roberts followed an aimless run with a fourth-tackle chip that Blake took on the full.

Right when the Tigers needed a big individual play, they had their most deflating moment so far, as the Eels got their fifth restart (off a Stefano Utoikamanu ruck infringement), Shaun Lane offloaded back to Nathan Brown, and Gutho kicked it into the left corner, for what would have been a sure thing for Lane if he’d got the angle right. Instead, he careened it over the sideline, although this just prompted Parra’s second risky challenge of the night, as they sent it upstairs to prove that Walters had stuck out a boot to slightly deflect the trajectory.

The ball would have still gone over the sideline, but Parra had a fresh set in the Tigers’ twenty, and felt restored here, having proved to themselves that they could turn even their own errors to their advantage. Lussick charged at the line on the right on play three, and the Eels retreated to the twenty on the left, but only to recharge their batteries, as Blake brought them back into the ten with a short sharp run, and Lussick got his debut try after all, scooping the Steeden out of dummy half and burrowing past Leilua and Utoikamanu to smash it down.

Streaky as always, Moses popped through his third goal of the night, and Marata Niukore got the restart rolling with a damaging run to clear the Parramatta red zone. Lane then got the post-contacts, even if he couldn’t manage a second offload, and the two Browns ended the set – Nathan by bringing them over halfway, Dylan by booting it all the way to the Tigers’ ten. By this stage, the Tigers were sitting on 38% of possession, 478-814 run metres and 19-7 missed tackles, and seemed to have spent the whole game working it out of their own end.

Things got worse when Opacic shrugged off a couple of defenders to hit the twenty on Parra’s next set, setting up a sublime spinal synergy that almost ended with Moses’ first try in 23 games. Finding himself with the footy on the left edge, Gutho swerved towards the wing, and back again, before booting a Moses-like grubber in goal, where Mitch seemed incredulous as it bounced straight into his chest. He must have been rusty after so long without a four-pointer, though, since the replay showed he’d followed Opacic by fumbling it on the ground.

Moses’ joy was so palpable that it was really agonising to see him disappointed here – and a real momentum-killer for the Eels. For a moment, it looked like Opacic had set up their best sequence of the first half, but instead it had all ended with a reprisal of his own disappointment on the right edge. No surprise, then, that the Tigers scored the first of their two tries in this motivation vacuum, as Brooks took a short ball from Leilua, and made the most of a temporarily deflated defensive line to run it hard and fast up the middle.

By the time he broke the ten and shifted it across to Liddle the only Eel in place was Brown, who made a valiant legs tackle, but couldn’t prevent this sudden acceleration. The Tigers had gone from the prospect of 20-0 at half time to 14-6 once Doueihi added the extras, and got a successful captain’s challenge to boost their spirits early on the restart as well. It all ended with a Laurie error, but these six points were still a powerful statement as they headed to the sheds, as well a motivator for the back forty, especially in the wake of Moses’ bombed try.

Still, the Eels had some good weapons in their arsenal – especially Papali’i, who was sitting at nine tackle busts already, not that far behind Greg Inglis and Jarryd Hayne’s record nineteen – even if they didn’t bounce back from their pre-sheds slump on their first set, when Matto coughed up the footy in the face of a courageous tackle from Brooks. So inconceivable was it that Brooksy might have squared up the ex-Tiger as systematically as he did that the Eels sent it upstairs, and lost their challenge, making up for some of their lucky calls in the first half.

The Tiges now started their first set back with a scrum at the twenty, as Brooks continued to organise on both sides of the park, and then up the middle, only for Liddle to lose it on the ground, late enough after Niukore and Lussick had pulled back from the tackle for this to effectively count as an unforced error. Brooks took out his frustration with an illegal strip on tackle one, Lane made a half break, Brown made a full break, and Shawn Blore attempted to stem this sudden acceleration of position with a professional foul on Lussick.

In just thirty seconds the Eels had regained the upper hand, and Blore was in the bin, all on the back of the Brooks penalty, so it was cathartic when Liddle made the easiest strip of the Tigers’ season on Lane on tackle one. It seemed to vicariously redeem Brooks, who bombed forty out, and joined the chase, forcing the Eels to work it back from their own end, which they ended up doing pretty easily, before Brown went bomb-for-bomb, booting a monster kick to Laurie, who fumbled it in the air and then copped a monster hit from Papali’i.

This was brutal but legal contact, removing Laurie so clinically from the action that Blake barely had to accelerate to take it on the bounce and decelerate beneath the posts, setting up Moses for another easy conversion. The sheer scale of this last try, from kick to tackle, ushered in a fresh period of Parra dominance, and was probably the key tipping-point in them doubling their scoreline over the last half hour. Moses wasted no time on the restart, making up for his botched try with one of the most spectacular long-range efforts on his career.

When a halfback makes such an egregious error in grounding the footy, they need to back themselves as flamboyantly as possible, as soon as possible. That’s just what Moses did here, slicing past Liddle and dancing over Seyfarth at the Tigers’ forty, shaping for Gutho as he reached his own forty, changing his angle to get outside Laurie, and eventually outrunning Jimmy the Jet, before capping off the spectacle by cockily patting Grant Atkins on the back and telling him he couldn’t deny this one, and booting through a sublime sideline conversion.

That back-to-back flow couldn’t be satiated by a single try, and sure enough Moses broke through the line again on the restart, off a short ball from Papali’i. Condensing his last run into an equally scintillating and subliminal piece of play, he got on the outside of Doueihi, who slipped to ground in an effort to match his pace, and dummied to dispose of Roberts, who couldn’t bring down Sivo by the time Moses flicked the footy across for him to curve around behind the posts and set up Moses, in turn, for another easy kick from directly in front. 

The Tigers had paid dearly for Blore’s time in the bin, so they desperately needed the successful captain’s challenge that proved a supposed Seyfarth strip had actually been an Oregon Kaufusi fumble. Since the 44th minute, the Eels had 81% of possession, 3 tries and 279-38 run metres, making this next Tigers’ set critical, especially when they got a much-needed six again, off a Moses ruck error. Play paused as Niukore left the park for an HIA, giving Parra time to rest and reset their line in the face of a rare burst of Tigers goal line attack.

A try with Blore in the bin would have been especially motivating, but instead Doueihi knocked it on just before he returned, while the Tigers had their messiest sequence under Moses’ next kick, whose bounce utterly defied Nofa the first time around. Talau was next man in place, but he knocked it back, as Haze Dunster bumped him to ground, and sent the Steeden even further towards the Tigers’ goal line, where Nofa finally cleaned it up. Even worse, Doueihi left the park a few tackles later, after copping Sivo’s arm right in the face.

There was no doubt that this was intentional contact, so you had to wonder whether a sin bin was enough, since Sivo would be back on the park in ten minutes, while the Tigers might be without one of their key playmakers for the remainder of the match. At the very least, it wasn’t consistent with the way Kevin Proctor and Kobe Hetherington’s hits were handled this same round, raising bigger questions about the way the NRL regulates high contact at the moment – questions the Tigers couldn’t focus on now as the Eels continued to accelerate.

Once again, Moses hoisted it high, and once again the Tigers weren’t up to it, as Roberts knocked on, Joffa was pinged for an offside, and the game reached a new level of volatility. The Tigers sent it upstairs for a challenge, and Moses barked out some pretty aggressive orders at Gutho, as if still smarting from their failed linkup at the end of the first stanza. The Tigers lost the challenge, the Eels had a full set in the ten, word came down from the sheds that Doueihi wouldn’t be returning, Seyfarth infringed the ruck, and the final quarter loomed.

Everything seemed to be disintegrating for the Tigers now, as Leilua made his poorest pass of the night, and Joffa found himself reduced to a trap-and-scrap on the right edge, before Tamou infringed the ruck on tackle one, putting the Eels at 7-4 for set restarts. Even a slightly elastic shift out to the left edge felt dangerous from Parra now, so it was a minor miracle when Bryce Cartwright mirrored Ofahengaue with a trap-and-scrap of his own, and Brooks seized on it to reprise his opening run up the left edge, where Joffa felt into Moses’ forearm.

It counted as high contact, giving the Tigers a precious stint down Parra’s end, where Roberts finally got some joy, albeit without reaching maximum speed, and on the back of the same hesitation he’d shown all night, which perhaps made the try all the more cathartic. Finding himself at the end of a halting right sweep, he dummied a few times, and clawed his way back inside, splitting Blake and Papali’i, and curving close enough to the posts to ensure Brooksy a fairly easy conversion, which became the last two Tigers points of the evening.

For a brief second, it looked like the Tiges might go back-to-back now, as Walters broke through the line, double-pumped and made his way deep into the red zone, where he eventually shifted it across to Michael Chee Kam at the ten, ushering in an unexpected period of goal line attack in the back half of the set. A beautiful harbour bridge ball from Brooks focused the next few plays on the left edge, where Talau delivered some deft footwork and offloaded for Seyfarth to make one of the best close-range charges of his career so far.

Yet Moses and Brooksy’s history shone through on the last, when Mitch read his ex-halves partner’s grubber perfectly, containing it right before the crossbar before booting it sixty from the twenty to shut down this sudden burst of Tigers field position. Dunster added his part by containing a Leilua run up the left edge on play one, and Liddle glimpsed another break, only to crash into Paulo, Niukore and Gutho, whose pullback was just as visceral as their contact, leaving Liddle in such a stark vacuum that he made his second fumble on the ground.

Any chance of the Tigers narrowing the scoreline, or building on Roberts’ try, dissolved when the Eels got their next restart, on the brink of the twenty, and sure enough Gutho scored their final and easiest try at the end of this same set. Taking a neat offload from Nathan Brown, he only had to pick out the most fatigued Tigers on the park, dodging away from Brooks and then making his way past three defenders to set up Moses for another kick from right in front, a poetic counterpoint to their almost-synergy at the end of the opening stanza.

The next sequence was one of the most volatile yet, as Nathan Brown lost the footy at the same time as Tom Amone rubbed his hand into RCG’s head while the big Parra prop was still on the ground, prompting some serious spray as they both packed the scrum. Even more dramatically, Papali’i was sent to the bin on play one for action on the ground, in this case a knee drop into the head of Leilua, as the Tigers made one last burst up the left edge, where Talau would have scored if not for a terrific last-ditch tackle from Dunster.

From here, the volatility fragmented both teams, with an Opacic error and Nathan Brown ruck infringement giving way to a long sequence of Tigers’ mistakes that ended with Brooks and Utoikamanu both being put on report. True to his sublime mastery over this second stanza, Moses stamped it as Parra’s game with a penalty kick right on the siren, capping off one of his best games of the season, and motivating the blue and gold as they prepare to take on the Bulldogs for a second Sunday afternoon game at Bankwest next week. 

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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