After incremental improvements over the previous fortnight, on Friday night in Townsville Parramatta produced close to their best 80 minutes of the season. Despite limited returns from recent trips to the Sunshine State, the Eels completely suffocated the Cowboys in a dominant 26-6 victory.
Like they did in the opening weeks of the season, the Eels no-frills pack laid the perfect platform for the team’s performance. The entire pack got through a mountain of work, each was rampaging with the ball in hand. The Parra Post-Mortem has spoken a lot about Nathan Brown this season, and his performance against the Cowboys again warrants special attention. The bullocking backrower made life difficult for the Cowboy defenders all night as he gained 186 metres. He wasn’t alone in driving past the advantage line, each of the Parramatta forwards were able to drive the ball forward over 100 metres, with the exception of Manu Ma’u who made 97.
It would be remiss to not make special mention of the output of Tepai Moeroa. Before a head knock curtailed his night, his was a special night. In a little over 37 minutes on the paddock, he carried the pigskin 100+ metres on 10 runs and made 21 tackles. Speaking of players getting through a mountain of work in limited game time, Siosaia Vave didn’t waste a minute of the 27 he spent on the paddock. Like Moeroa and Brown, he was a massive handful for the Cowboys defence and always looked likely to break the line.
The pack’s work in defence was equally impressive, meaning the Eels completely dominated the ruck. These efforts saw Dally M Medallist Jason Taumalolo and Australian Utility Michael Morgan rendered almost completely ineffective. In fact, the only player that caused Parramatta any kind of headaches was fullback Kalyn Ponga. The custodian was a shining light for the Cowboys and was simply outstanding in broken play, one of his returns from close the dead ball line will haunt Semi Radradra for some time.
With Corey Norman on song, Parramatta’s backline was more than ready to take advantage of the hard work of the team’s big men. The number seven, like he has been for a few seasons now, was simply outstanding. Although behind a few big names, he must now be in the conversation when Kevin Walters or Mal Meninga are picking representative teams. Speaking of men who should be in the representative football frame, Michael Jennings also produced a performance that must have brought a smile to Laurie Daley’s face.
It’s no surprise that the left-hand side of the field where Norman and Jennings do their work is where the Eels look their most dangerous. The potency of this edge is no secret from opposition teams, but knowing about something and being able to do something about it are two different things. Clint Gutherson, who is having an outstanding season himself, was able to profit from two movements down this edge with a couple of four pointers. His first required an athletic finish after receiving an inside ball from a flying Norman.
It would be remiss not to mention the historic moment that took place in Townsville. After a recent edict from NRL House, Kenny Edwards became the first player sin binned for slapping an opponent. It was the second of a couple of silly actions by Edwards. After incensing Gavin Cooper, by hugging him after a handling error, Edwards sneakily slapped him for becoming upset. Both actions have no place in the game and he would be wise not to repeat them. Thankfully in this instance there was no major consequence, meaning we can all laugh at Edwards’ throwing of a chair in the dressing room afterwards and the property stewards priceless response.
I was pleased to see a few other rarities in the second half of the match. Semi Radradra effected a text book one on one strip on Michael Morgan. While this is not ‘unicorn’ rare, the scrum win against the feed effected by captain Tim Mannah was, and whether it is outside the rules as they stand now or not, I was happy to see it.
So with that, it is with 3 wins in a row that the Eels go into the representative break. From the scratchy win over the Tigers, the Eels have improved incrementally each week up to the 80-minute performance produced in North Queensland. Another challenge lies ahead in a fortnight with the Roosters lying in wait. The competition heavyweights will provide a stern test, but the Eels are better prepared than they have been for some time.
Parramatta 26 (Gutherson, Smith, Mannah tries; Gutherson 5 goals) def
North Queensland 6 (Wintersetein, try; Feldt goal)
Match Officials: Dave Munro, Alan Shortall.
Sideline Officials: Dave Ryan, Tyson Morel.
Video Referee: Jared Maxwell, Ben Galea.
Official Crowd: 14,247 at 1300 Smiles Stadium.