ROUND 10: Gold Coast Titans v. Parramatta Eels (Suncorp Stadium, 7/5/23, 26-24)

The Titans had conceded 25 points a game, but scored 26 in their last three matches, when they rocked up to host the last contest of Magic Round on Sunday night, in one of the great arm wrestles of the festive Brisbane weekend. Mitch Moses had kicked six in a row from the left touchline, but he broke the streak tonight in the most painful way, while Dylan Brown had one of his best performances in the halves all season, stepping into the spotlight most emphatically in the last ten minutes, when he set up the last assist with Mitch off for an HIA.

Clint Gutherson might have scored the first hat trick of his career against the Knights last week, and racked up a try of his own here during a critical Parra consolidation around the hour mark, but his sin bin at the eighth minute gave Gold Coast an edge that the blue and gold never quite matched. Kieran Foran scored a double during this time, galvanising his men to withstand a pretty significant offload deficit against Bryce Cartwright, Ryan Matterson, J’maine Hopgood and Junior Paulo, in a game without a single restart or captain’s challenge.

Gutho took the kickoff, Moeaki Fotuaika took the first carry, David Fifita took over duties on the second, and the chopped-up turf defied Brian Kelly on the third, gifting Parramatta their first set twenty out from the Gold Coast line. Josh Hodgson and Moses set up Junior Paulo to bring it to the ten, Wiremu Greig barged it seven metres further forward, and the Eels scored off their first sweep to the left, where Dylan Brown dummied and drew in two decoy runners to clear ups pace for Gutho to pop it volleyball-style out for Maika Sivo to slam over for four.

The try put Sivo equal with Campbell Graham for most of the season, although Moses broke his left sideline streak by swinging the Steeden out past the posts. For a streaky kicker, this was a slightly worrying sign, but the blue and gold had still started strong, and were deep into Titans’ territory by the time Moses dabbed it into the right corner, where Jayden Campbell met five defenders as he tried to bring it back over the ten line, and Alofiana Khan-Pereira copped a big enough shot to drag him back there, as Gold Coast struggled to break their thirty.

Gutho extemporised with a harbour bridge ball out to Bailey Simonsson at the start of the next set, but the hosts rallied now, preventing J’maine Hopgood getting away a late offload, before Chris Randall shut down a Shaun Lane run, and Greig conceded the first penalty of the game with a high shot early in the following set. Like the Eels before them, the sky blue went for a flamboyant formation on play one, sweeping the Steeden over the width of the park to greet the halfway line, and making their first foray into the red zone a couple of tackles later.

Kelly ended with a dab that Moses lunged at, but couldn’t clean up, leaving the footy live for Khan-Pereira, who was dragged back by Gutho. The King was sent off for a professional foul, Mitch slotted into the fullback role, the Titans had a full set in the ten, and this sudden shift in momentum reached its apex when Kieran Foran sliced over midway through the count, off the fifth assist of the season from Fifita, who drew in three defenders before popping back the offload for his five-eighth to put down his first try since Souths beat Manly last season.

Now it was Gold Coast’s turn to deliver a sterling set after points, and best the Eels by replicating Foran’s try. This time the ex-Eagle received a beautiful cut-out from Boyd, shaped for the wing, pivoted off the left boot to defy Will Penisini, and crossed over untouched, like he was reliving his glory days. We were only twelve minutes in, and yet this felt like the critical consolidation moment of the match – both practically, as Boyd’s kick from right in front put the Titans 10-4, and emotionally, with Foran’s first double since Manly beat Brisbane in 2015.

The Eels needed a couple of big individual statements now, and Greig provided the first one, coming in low and hard early in the restart to smash Joe Stimson to ground. For a moment it looked like it had paid dividends too, regalvanising Parramatta into a left edge surge that ended with a Dylan Brown chip that nearly produced an even more spectacular double from Sivo. The footy landed right on the sideline, which Maika also balletically dodged as he launched back in goal, where he came a hair’s-breadth of slamming it down before the chalk.

Instead, the Titans got the ball back, and then a bump up the park with a slow peel from Hopgood, burrowing their way into the right sideline where things fell apart with a forward ball from Campbell. The Eels didn’t do much with it, despite a towering bomb from Moses, while Fifita continued to build on the next set, with an early ball for Kelly. This prompted some proportionate defence from Moses, who banged into him midway up the ground, and then fielded the kick brilliantly, and stayed in the park, as Gutho finally returned from the sin bin.

Moses was in leadership mode now, muscling his way up the right edge to clear space for Penisini, before squaring up his shoulders and dribbling it off the right boot for what would have been a Dylan Brown assist if not for some desperate Stimson defence. Even so, Parra got the dropout, and then a full set in the ten when Campbell opted to go short. Again, Stimson saved the day, this time on the left, where he came in low to prevent Brown capitalizing off an ankle tap, before Lane came agonizingly close as he tumbled to ground right on the chalk.

With three Titans on his back, he wasn’t going to get an arm free, and Campbell regained control immediately, by building on a poor Hodgson pass and an improvised Brown kick while delivering some of his father’s footwork to bring the footy back to the ten. Boyd built on it with his best kick of the game so far, deep into the left corner where a chase of six or seven meant that the Eels had to execute some of their hardest runs to hit Gold Coast territory, where Moses hoisted it high from thirty out – and yet once again Campbell took it confidently.

That confidence percolated over the rest of the backline now, as Khan-Pereira stamped his signature on the game. It started on the left edge, where Foran flicked it out to Kelly, who caught-and-passed for the young winger to bust through the line and put boot to ball right when his five-eighth was barking for it back in field. Luckily, the kick was pitch perfect, setting up Khan-Pereira to take it on the second bounce and pop it down untouched, for his tenth try of the season, and a quadruple lead for Gold Coast once Boyd booted through another two.

The two sides went set-for-set for a couple of minutes now, looking for opportunities up their respective left edges, before Tino Faasumaleaui, who’d anchored the restart with a monster run, won himself a marker penalty from Ryan Matterson. The Titans were inside the red zone by tackle two, and the ten by tackle three, and looked set to garner a goal line dropout when Gutho put the ball down behind the line, only for the Parramatta captain to insist that Stimson had got a hand to it first. He was right too, and so the visitors were on the attack once again.

The blue and gold drove it up the field, and then pivoted into a silky right sweep, where Penisini did well to get boot to ball with Kelly up in his face, and Foran did even better to launch over from back in field, and wrap himself around the Steeden to save the day. Likewise, Campbell came up with another terrific take beneath the next Moses bomb, although Haze Dunster didn’t have much of a challenge at the back end of the following boot from Boyd, a low-hanging affair that failed to find grass, and arrived straight on the chest for an easy take.

Bryce Cartwright had been pretty busy since coming on at the half hour mark, and he now set up a left sweep that ended with Sivo slamming towards the chalk, where only a two-staged tackle from Philip Sami prevented him from putting down the four. Campbell lobbed a beauty for the dropout, soaring it thirty metres high, a metre out from the ten, and for a beat it looked like Khan-Pereira would take it. Instead, he knocked it on, Parra got the scrum, and targeted the left edge, where Simonsson tried to muscle over in much the same spot as Sivo.

Even if a big Gold Coast pack hadn’t held him up, Dylan Brown had knocked on the footy in backplay, and so the Titans survived the last big assault on their line before the break. Nine seconds from the siren, on the last play of the game, Penisini broke through the line up the right, but Joe Vuna was waiting in field for the kick, and took it on the full as the first stanza came to an end. The Eels trotted to the shed with a quadruple deficit to make up, but Sivo wouldn’t have to wait long before mirroring Foran’s epic double with two crossovers himself.

Parramatta made it over halfway for their first set back, while Gold Coast were only at the forty when Boyd put boot to ball, ushering in what promised to be a fairly steady period until the Sydneysiders delivered one of the freakiest tries of Magic Round. Carty set it up, with an offload through Boyd out to Dylan Brown, who managed to make it third phase with a Hail Mary pass that didn’t hit an Eel, but couldn’t be reined in by Sami either, leaving it live for Simonsson to scoop it up and shift it out for Sivo to make his way to the chalk without a touch.

Even if Moses missed another sideline kick, this was a vision of Parra wresting order from chaos, so they felt primed to take control of the back forty if they could retain their flow now. Matto offloaded midway through the restart, and took the next carry, while Cartwright himself made a valiant effort for more second phase on tackle four, but couldn’t get the footy away from a committed Gold Coast three-man pack. Still, this was a solid statement after points, as was a tough Moses-Penisni combo on Khan-Pereira on the subsequent Titans set.

Brown supercharged the next set by breaking his way through the line, reaching the thirty where he was only just downed by a last-second Fifita ankle tap. This was the acceleration Parra needed, so it was proportionately deflating when Lane coughed it up on a sweep out to the left in the face of a huge hit from Boyd, who wasn’t going to allow another try to get rolling on his watch. Add a penalty from Hodgson for a slow peel, and Gold Coast had their first real shot since the break, as Fifita popped a catch-and-pass out to Khan-Pereira’s wing.

For the second time, though, Penisini did the job, this time without Moses. Grabbing his quarry by the jersey, he dragged him over the sideline, Mitch barking his support back in field, and with Stimson giving a slow peel back to Parra, the momentum hung in the balance at the cusp of the fiftieth minute. Two plays in, Brown tried to reprised his linebreak, and made his way well into the ten, and yet Khan-Pereira took control of the left edge with a vengeance now, stretching his wingspan to rein in a Gutho wide ball and running the length of the park.

He hugged the sideline for twenty metres and then careened back in field, with only Penisini fast enough, or ready enough, to attempt a desperate ankle tap at the death, in a limp echo of Fifita’s work on Brown a few minutes before. The young winger had his fifth double in his debut year, while the Titans were back to a comfortable fourteen-point lead as Boyd booted another two through the posts. They were rolling on the restart too, spreading it from coast to coast early in the count, against a Parra outfit that were well down despite 11-4 offloads.

Hopgood made it twelve a beat later, with the latest and riskiest offload of the night. Still, Gutho was just able to get fingertips to it, and the clutchiness of this play, paired with a Foran escort at the other end of the park, ushered in the blue and gold’s most committed left sweep yet. This was all clinical timing and methodical football, with the only freakiness coming from Sivo, who reached down to scoop up the Steeden from his shoelaces, off a Simonsson assist, before crashing over for three on the wing, and a 22-12 scoreline with another Moses botch.

Both sides had offered up some strong sets after points, but the Eels provided the best now, reaching their apex tonight by becoming the only team to go back-to-back. Matto set the stage with a monster run that racked him up fifteen post-contacts through three defenders, before Brown provided a different kind of dexterity, swiveling from boot to boot all the way to the ten, where he rolled more than kicked the footy towards the line. Cometh the hour cometh the man, as Gutho stepped up to ride the finest of lines between vision and chaos.

Campbell initially got hands to the Steeden, but the Parramatta captain’s boot was in the way. In a normal contest, that might have been the end of it, but Gutho simultaneously scooted away from Jojo Fifita to pop the ball down. It was like he was thinking in slow motion, but acting in intensified real time, unleashing a surge of blue and gold energy that continued with Moses breaking his streak by sliding the football past the right post, and climaxed with Sivo making an absolute belter of a shot on Foran to put the veteran straight onto the choppy turf.

As the final quarter arrived, then, we were back to a four point game, with both sides battling it out, high on the volatility of this recent comeback, until Carty gave Gold Coast their next chance with a slow peel. They lost ground when a Boyd tap-on sent the Steeden spinning back to the Parramatta thirty, and while he tried to recover with a big soaring bomb to the right edge, Sami knocked it on. Yet Campbell regained his team’s composure by putting his body on the line with the most heroic take of the night, beneath a soaring midfield Moses boot.

Surrounded by big men, he reached out for the footy, almost landed on his head, and maintained possession all the way to the ground. He did just as well on the next take too, even if there was considerably less of a chase this time, while big Tino contributed a tough run a few tackles later, when he ran straight through Moses and required another wave of defence to hold him up. Fifita put an end to a Simonsson dash early in the next Parramatta set, and cumulatively these individual plays started to make Gold Coast feel dominant again.

The blue and gold actually glimpsed another try at the end of this set, when Moses popped a short fast one out to Lane, but the conviction of the Titans’ defence was massive, as Jojo Fifita spearheaded a clutch pack to prevent the opppsition levelling the score. They had to work it right off their line, but a midset sweep put Sami into space on the fourth, as he glimpsed a try himself, only to search in vain for support as he hit the red zone. No matter though, since the acceleration was contagious, galvanising veterans and young guns alike into the next surge.

No sooner had Brown brought Sami to ground than he was up and playing it, as Boyd popped it out to Keano Kini, and took the offload from the debutant immediately, before setting up one of the best recent runs from Kelly, who fended off Carty, beat Dunster, and then trampled through Carty again at the death to slam down his fiftieth career try. With Boyd missing the kick, Gold Coast became only the third team in modern rugby league to ratchet up the same score four weeks in a row, following the Broncos in 1989 and the newly formed Tigers in 2000.

Even worse for Parramatta, Moses was off the park, after making brutal head contact with Kini’s hip, and yet they still managed to narrow the board to a two point game before the final siren. Brown made up for his half’s absence with a momentous kick at the end of the next blue and gold set, landing it deep in the left corner, so he couldn’t be blamed for the position that Gold Coast garnered on the next couple of tackles, since Campbell somehow came up with yet another prodigious return to muscle the Steeden a good thirty metres up the park.

Matto steadied the ship with another ten post-contacts on the next set, and Brown culminated this period of Moses compensation beautifully, dancing from boot to boot up the right before busting though the line and popping the simplest of assists back inside for Andrew Davey to score, while also setting up Gutho for the easiest kick of the night. It was a two-point game with three minutes to go, but high contact from Sivo crushed Parra’s hopes, building their hunger for a convulsive win when they take on the Raiders on Saturday 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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