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It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t overly impressive, but the Parramatta’s performance against South Sydney was enough to earn a 22-16 victory and a double chance in September. Seemingly guilty again of tailoring their performance to the opposition in front of them the Eels were saved from a potential embarrassing result by the rare attacking weapons they have at their disposal.
In a game where Mitchell Moses became the first player in the history of the game to meet an opponent four times in the regular season, Eels centre Michael Jennings also lined up against his younger brother Robert for the first time. It was this match up that loomed large in the Eels opening try. With the senior Jennings receiving a short ball from Will Smith that put him on the outside of Tyrell Fuimaono, leaving Junior in the invidious position of choosing between marking Kirisome Auva’a or moving in to cover for his centre. A dummy made the decision for him, and with senior setting sail for the line, little brother’s embarrassment was complete when he slipped over trying to correct his mistake. The 29-year old Michael, may have been overlooked by the representative selectors this year, but he has lost none of his speed or try scoring abilities and will be a key player in the Eels September charge.
Having gained the early advantage, Parramatta’s next five minutes were simply diabolical. A half hearted chase on a Corey Norman 40/20 attempt was punished by a sensational Damien Cook kick return. With the Eels on the back foot, it was only Bunker intervention that prevented the Blue and Gold’s conceding immediately. Rather than take advantage of their near miss, Manu Ma’u spilled the ball 30 metres out from the line, on what was meant to be the Eels’ relieving set. Already hard on their defensive line a penalty gifted Souths another set and it became a family try scoring affair when little brother matched his older sibling efforts in the 14th minute.
A rampaging Rabbitohs side continued to march easily down the field, first winning the contest in the ruck, then aided by Eels errors and penalties. For the next 18 minutes the Eels struggled to keep pace with Souths and were lucky to concede just one try. Having kept in touch, the Eels pounced when given a couple of repeat sets and a penalty. A well worked short side play down the left saw the first try architects, Corey Norman and Will Smith, combine again to send Semi Radradra across the line for try in the 40th minute. Outplayed for much of the half, the Eels would go into the break in the lead when Moses converted from the sideline.
The other positive from the last few minutes of the first half was the return of Beau Scott from what was considered a season ending injury. The co-captain hit the ground running in his return, with a massive hit up on his first run. With the game just a taster of things to come, he spent just 22 minutes on the ground but managed some good work in limited time.
With his try before the break, Radradra drew level with Eric Grothe snr and Ray Price in fifth place on the Eels all-time try scoring list. In a rich vein of form it was only going to be a matter of time before he left that exalted company and he did so on the back of an exquisite cut out ball from Corey Norman early in the second half.
With the Eels conceding almost immediately, it would prove a nervy final 25 minutes for Coach Brad Arthur. Having moved from the Coach’s Box to bench for the second half he was forced in to earnestly pace the sideline, by the spirited Rabbitohs efforts to take a big last round scalp. Unable to maintain possession, the Eels defence was given an almighty work out a week after conceding 34 points in the Suncorp Stadium Shootout.
Nathan Brown was justly rewarded during the week for his enormous season with the Ken Thornett Medal as the Eels Player of the Year. Having been the most reliable of figures throughout the season, an illness during the week limited him to just 49 minutes against the Rabbitohs. With Brown’s output limited, Manu Ma’u produced perhaps his best effort of the season. In an outstanding 80 minute performance Ma’u ran for 214 metres and laid 21 bone shaking tackles. If he can take this form into next week, it makes for a mouth watering proposition against one of the competition’s most formidable packs.
It was only fitting that Radradra would be the decisive figure in the game though, completing his hat-trick with an extraordinary take from a pin-point Corey Norman kick. After starting the season slowly, it has been the most prolific back half of the season with 14 tries from the last 13 games.
The Eels would need to see off another spirited Souths assault on the line after Brad Takairangi was penalised for interference on the Rabbitohs short kick off. It was a brave but correct call by the referee, but it makes a mockery of the countless other times they allow similar incidents to remain unpunished. So brave in the 77th minute, referees Badger and Butler were oblivious to it in the games 32nd minute. With Souths Damien Cook camped under a high kick from Mitchell Moses, Corey Norman, Kirisome Auva’a and Michael Jennings all made a beeline to contest the ball. As they drew within striking distance, Jason Clarke, Tyrone Fuimaono and Robert Jennings attempted to build a wall in front of the fullback and took out the Eels chasers in the process. Perhaps the only real difference between the two incidents, I suggest only half facetiously, was that Norman and Auva’a were making a genuine attempt at the ball, while Bryson Goodwin drew the penalty for quite happily stopping at the sight of Takairangi.
Now just like that, the preliminaries are over and the business end of the season begins. After a long absence, the Eels are back in the Finals and have two bites at the cherry in the race for the Premiership. It goes without saying that a performance like this one will not be enough to get past the Storm but as they showed against the Broncos twice in the run in to the finals, they do have more to give.
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Parramatta 22 (Radradra 3, M Jennings , Auva’a tries; Moses 3 goals) def
South Sydney 16 (R Jennings 2, Turner tries; Goodwin 2 goals)
Match Officials: Gavin Badger, Chris Butler.
Sideline Officials: Tim Roby, Clayton Sharpe.
Video Referee: Bernard Sutton, Luke Patten.
Official Crowd: 21,533 at ANZ Stadium.
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