Sunday afternoon’s matches were testaments to the power and spectacle of second half comebacks. Like Manly later in the day, the Eels suffered an unexpected setback, relatively speaking, during the first forty against Canterbury, heading into the sheds at a 6-10 deficit. When they returned, however, they proved why this was fourth against fifteenth, as a penalty try for Mitchell Moses unleashed a cascade of thirty unanswered Parramatta points, most of them spearheaded by Moses’ blistering leadership with the hands, boot and strategic vision.
Dylan Brown took the first bomb, and Waqa Blake was pinged for the first error, losing the footy in the tackle even though he seemed to have been facing his own goal line when he spilled it. The big men now stepped up, as Adam Elliott, Jack Hetherington and Matt Doorey took solid runs, and Elliott had a second carry on the fourth, when he would have crossed if not for a terrific legs tackle from Dylan Brown. Josh Jackson and Luke Thompson then combined on the last to drag Mitchell Moses back in goal for the first dropout of the match.
Sionae Katoa did the same at the end of the repeat set, redeeming an average Brandon Wakeham kick by trapping Haze Dunster in goal, but this early burst of Canterbury field position came to an abrupt end with an obstruction from Aaron Schoupp, and then a ruck error from Doorey that gifted Parra the first restart of the game. Moses got revenge for conceding the dropout with a deft chip to the right edge, where Ryan Matterson pulled the footy in from Schoupp and crashed over for the first four-pointer with Tui Katoa on his back.
There was a brief question of whether Matto had knocked into Schoupp, but the try was cleared, Moses converted, and the Eels had reasserted themselves after a slightly spotty start. With 19 try assists, Moses is looking good to match or excel his career high of 31 in 2019, and bombed well at the end of the restart, although Katoa also made it 2/2 under the high ball. The Dogs had to rebuild momentum pretty quickly, especially when Parra received the second penalty of the game on their next set, off a swinging arm from Elliott on Dunster.
Again, the defenders failed to contain Moses’ chip to the right, and while Matto didn’t get the best of Nick Meaney for a second try, he did force a knock-on from the Canterbury fullback. A rapid left sweep out of the scrum almost sent debutant Sean Russell across in the corner, before the Eels headed right, where Dunster also found himself faced with a sea of blue and white jerseys. Tom Opacic lost the ball a second later, and the Dogs had their first big let-off, as Jake Averillo ended with a long, low kick in an attempt to rebuild their waning field position.
Opacic made a second successive error midway through the next set, and the Dogs responded with two offloads – Thompson to Hetherington, and then from Wakeham to nobody, forcing Averillo to clean it up on the bounce. This was the first time Canterbury had come close to fragmenting the Parramatta defence, and they followed with a strong defensive set, elasticising further next time they had ball in hand by spreading it wide on the very first play.
It all seemed to come together on the last, when Katoa leaped up to tap forward Averillo’s kick, and came agonisingly close to recovering it, only for Gutho to take possession and turn this potential self-assist into a knock-on. Still, the Dogs got their first restart a set later, while Wakeham did better with the kick this time, chipping before the last into the left corner, where Dunster played it safe and took it dead. It was fourth against fifteenth, and Canterbury had conceded the first try, but they were well placed to lock it up as the first quarter ended.
Averillo opted for an oblique chip to the right on the last – not his best effort – and Russell was lucky to avoid a knock-on when he contested it in the air. Hetherington responded with a ruck error early in the set, gifting a restart in the process, and just like that the Eels had absorbed all of Canterbury’s momentum, as Isaiah Papali’i stepped into the spotlight with seven or eight post-contact metres. They very nearly scored on the last, off a Brown kick that was headed directly for Dunster’s chest until Katoa stormed in to fingertip it out of his grasp.
Unfortunately, Averillo’s next kick was also pretty spotty, restoring Dunster with some joy when he caught it cleanly on the chest in goal. Yet the Eels were finding it hard to capitalise on these shifts in their favour, with Blake now losing the footy – partly on the back of a low tackle from Dylan Napa, and partly as a result of a slipperier Steeden, since the rain was now getting heavy over Bankwest. Gutho survived a borderline tackle from Elliott, Moses booted in his own thirty for field position, and JMK responded with a great run out of dummy half.
The game seemed to hang in the balance during these moments. A try felt imminent – and it came off a second Dunster miss, off another Katoa challenge. This time the Parra winger met the footy on the left edge, and ricocheted it right, where Gutho seemed set to secure it, only for Napa to storm in, tuck it into his chest, and pivot away from Matto for his first try in 44 games. Averillo had an easy conversion from right in front, so it was 6-6 with ten till the siren.
Napa also took the first hit-up of the restart, surging his team into the most determined blue and gold defence of the game. Two runs from Ava Seumanufagai couldn’t get them to the halfway line, however, so the big men had to channel their energy into defence, starting with an aggressive effort from Elliott on Dunster on tackle one of the first set. Yet the Dogs got a little too enthusiastic here, as Jackson conceded an offside, and Moses garnered the third penalty, off a high hit from Averillo, while Papali’i got the Eels rolling with another tackle bust.
With another restart off a Wakeham ruck error, Parramatta had the most sustained field position of the game, and looked certain to score, so it was a major defensive coup when Napa forced a knock-on from Shaun Lane a few tackles later. While Canterbury followed with a gutsy set, Dunster scooped up Averillo’s kick expertly, and the Eels looked set to resume their rhythm, and even score on this next set, only for Wakeham to save the day with a superb 6-on-s6 tackle, drilling into Brown and forcing the footy free for another blue and white stint.
Nathaniel Roache had just come onto the park for his debut game in Parra colours, but his presence was overshadowed by the first penalty of the afternoon for the Dogs – and a sin bin to boot, since Marata Niukore was now sent off for ten for a swinging arm on Jackson. With four minutes on the clock, everything was in place for Canterbury to snatch an upset lead on the brink of half time, and Averillo was very nearly the man on play four, giving Papali’i some of his own medicine with a tackle break before Gutho saved the day as last line of defence.
Even so, Wakeham’s grubber on the last paid dividends, forcing Dunster to concede the second last dropout of the first half. Seumanufagai glimpsed some space with an inside ball on play two, and Roache brought him down for his first big defensive gesture in a Parramatta jersey. Averillo’s kick was too long on the last, hurtling over the dead ball line as Will Hopoate slid behind it, but the slippery turf worked to Canterbury’s advantage, since it propelled Russell into the footy, as the Dogs got a second straight dropout with ninety second to go.
Seumanufagai charged under the crossbar, and came up just short, before Wakeham delivered a beautiful harbour bridge ball out to Katoa, who showcased even better control in the wet weather, shifting the tip of the footy to his left hand, and maintaining total composure as he leaped into the air and landed Steeden-first for his second NRL try. This was a spectacular end to the first half for the Bulldogs, but like the Sea Eagles later in the afternoon, the Eels would use it as the platform for a swathe of unanswered points when they returned.
Lane took the first hit-up back, and then another carry on play three, while the Moses-Katoa contest continued on the last, with the Canterbury backliner making another secure collect. The Dogs handled their first set well, making it 22/23 completions, after 44/46 against the Dragons last week, and Schoupp followed Katoa by securing Moses’ next chip to the right edge. Canterbury may have been trailing the penalty count 3-1 and the restart count 4-1, but they looked confident and competent here as Niukore returned from the bin five metres in.
Moses went high again with his third kick, but redirected towards the left wing, where Nick Cotric made a courageous catch, almost parallel with the ground. Play paused a moment later, and it wasn’t initially clear why, until a Canterbury trainer requested that Katoa be taken from the field for examination. The stoppage didn’t do the Dogs any favours, since Averillo followed with the worst pass of the match – and the turning point of the match – lobbing it awkwardly off Napa’s shoulder and onto the ground, as Moses scooted in and toed it towards the line.
He was ahead of every defender, so when Wakeham tackled him post-kick it was rightly deemed a penalty try, bumping the Eels up to a two-point lead once Moses added the kick. Mitch was ropeable after being denied the putdown, barking out orders to his men as he congealed into the white hot rage that would lead them to twenty-four unanswered points over the next half hour. The Dogs were neutered on their next set, as Wakeham dribbled it across the side on the last – a drab gesture of defeat that galvanised Parra into their next try.
Opacic got them rolling with an offload to Gutho, and Brown followed with a superb short ball to Lane, who hit it hard, slipped away from Hetherington, and dummed right to force Meaney to commit to his opposing fullback, before grounding it as Wakeham slid in for a last-ditch defensive effort. The Eels had been searching for this breakaway effort all night, so from this point on they felt back in first-gear, making it an eight point lead when Moses converted.
Papali’i added to his post-contact tally on tackle one of the restart, and Niukore added even more, but the set ebbed when play was paused again, this time to assess Roache’s response to a legs tackle. Nevertheless, Parra got six again immediately, and an augmented restart, as Moses shrugged his way out of an Elliott tackle, Roache left the park, and Moses chipped midfield, where the Bulldogs allowed it to bounce, forcing Meaney to bang it dead at the last.
This was crunch time for Canterbury, since with another conceded try they would completely lose control of the game. Parra focused most of the set on the right side, where the Dogs defended well, until Brown took the kick, following Moses with a chip to the other edge, where Jackson caught it but was dragged back inside by a determined Parramatta defence. It was now the Eels’ turn to have two successive sets, and things went from bad to worse for Canterbury when Thompson was sent to the bin for a high shot just before Wakeham’s kick.
Once again Gutho tried to spearhead a linebreak on the right edge. He looked even sharper now, so it was frustrating for the Eels to receive yet another stoppage in play, this time to attend to Elliott, who was down with an apparent ankle injury at the ten metre line. He’d also copped a head clash in backplay, forcing Napa back on earlier than expected, as the Eels finally got their dropout, a good five minutes after Jackson had been dragged back in field.
For a moment it looked like the pause had rejuvenated them, since Gutho expanded the play out to the left edge, and Moses ended with another strong chip, but with a Dylan Brown knock-on in goal the Dogs had a seven tackle set – and then their first restart in a long time, late in the tackle count, off a ruck error from Matto. This was the shot they needed – they were only eight behind – especially once they recovered Averillo’s kick and got six again on the last, so it was agonising when Wadell knocked on into a hard low hit from Dylan Brown.
This was the death knell for Canterbury, on the cusp of the final quarter, and the Eels seemed to know it, since it steeled them into their fourth and toughest try. It didn’t happen on the next set, when Dunster lost the footy forward up the right edge thanks to a last-ditch ankle tap from Schoupp, but even Dunster’s speed and commitment was money in the bank for the following Parra set, which he started with a freakish take of a nightmare bounce on the same edge. Just like that, he’d redeemed himself, nursing a cramp as his men built upon his effort.
Moses ended with one of his most elegant and understated bombs of the night – the kind of deceptively brilliant play he can make seem so easy – and Meaney wasn’t up to it, spilling the footy into Blake before finally diving on it to prevent the try then and there. Two plays out of the scrum, Joey Lussick slammed at the line out of dummy half, Moses cleaned up a chaotic pass from Brown, and Papali’i steadied the ship with a good tackle right in front of the posts.
This whole sequence was like watching the Eels’ game in miniature – a combination of consolidation and self-correction – so it felt like another tipping-point when two of the biggest men on the park combined for a definitive try a tackle later. Junior Paulo was the assister, driving the footy deep into the line and popping a short ball out to Reagan Campbell-Gillard, who danced over an ankle tap from Waddell for his fourth try of the season – his best tryscoring record in any season – while setting up Moses for the easiest conversion so far.
Like Lane before him, RCG followed his try with a big carry on the restart, and the Eels showed no signs of slowing down, getting six again off a ruck error from Katoa as Thompson returned from the bin, and word came down from the sheds that Elliott’s afternoon was over due to a suspected cheek fracture. Moses ended with a strong bomb, and Cotric responded with another heroic take, curving his whole body around the ball as a mass of Parra defenders swarmed him. Four tackles later, Wakeham lost the footy, and the Dogs had to defend again.
Moses fired up the troops with a big kick on the first, forcing a dropout from Meaney, but once again there was a break in play as Cotric’s terrific collect caught up with him, forcing him off the park for an HIA after his head made contact with Russell’s knee. Wakeham went short with the kick, and it paid off – or at least it seemed to pay off until Gutho made a well-judged Captain’s Challenge to prove that Opacic hadn’t touched it before Schoupp made contact.
It felt almost inevitable that Parra score now with so much momentum behind them, and Niukore got them rolling with a neat offload on tackle two to Dylan Brown, who drove it straight towards the posts like he was the biggest forward on the park. Yet another great kick from Moses, and yet another dropout from the Dogs, now ensued, and once again Wakeham went short. History was repeating itself, and the Eels seemed to have a hold on every possible outcome here, focusing on the right edge before shifting it left midway through the count.
This was the first really dramatic left sweep of the game, and it paid spectacular dividends, as Russell scored his debut try, doing the Rouse Hill Rhinos proud off a superb wide ball from Gutho, who just got on the outside of Averillo to set up the assist. Full credit to Moses too, who timed the previous pass beautifully, sizing up Sione Katoa, pausing for the most subliminal of dummies, and then shifting out to his fullback. His boot was just as good from the sideline, curving and guiding the Steeden through the posts to make it a stark 32-10 lead.
Moses was now on fire, attempting a linebreak up the middle on tackle three of the restart, before getting a bomb away under serious pressure from Hetherington – good enough, combined with the chase, to force a putdown from Wakeham. After completing every set bar one in the first stanza, the Dogs had only finished six since the break, so it was a tribute to their defence the scoreline wasn’t worse. They couldn’t hold the fort now, though, as Moses and Gutho reprised and compressed their previous combo to give Russell a double out of the scrum.
It was a resounding ending to one of the most memorable Parramatta games of the season – a poetic counterpart to the Sea Eagles’ incredible comeback against Gold Coast later the same afternoon. They’ll enjoy a well-earned break over the Origin bye week, and be in good form for what may be their most challenging match of the year against Penrith in two Fridays’ time. On the other side of the Steeden, this puts a pin the Bulldogs’ flow and high after their win over St. George, so they’ll be hoping Turbo is out when they take on Manly in two weeks.