Just like that, we have a winning streak!
It may have been a nail-biting finish, but we were given another glimpse of the form that carried the Eels to the top four last season. Less than a month after falling to the Wests Tigers on Easter Monday, and despite five lead changes, the Eels were able to outlast this season’s surprise packets in an entertaining contest at the Olympic Stadium.
Despite looking the better side for much of the early exchanges a Corey Thompson try meant that they were chasing the match after 25-minutes. Where for much of the season this might have been the end of the tale, Corey Norman and Mitchell Moses had other ideas though.
A tantalisingly placed crossfield kick from Norman was spectacularly caught and grounded for a try by Bevan French. Not to be outdone, Moses set up Michael Jennings with an unbelievable offload after taking the line on.
While the attack was closer to its best on the back of improved discipline and ball control, the defence still needs work before they are truly ready to mix it with the competitions best. Not taking anything away from Luke Brooks’ slight of hand, but the sight of Tigers’ frontrow forward Matt Eisenhuth strolling across the line untouched is enough to provoke cold sweats about the thought of facing teams with more attacking weapons.
Talking about attacking weapons, there was a lot of talk during the week about a surprise Origin call-up for Co-Captain Clint Gutherson. In the early stages of his comeback from knee reconstruction surgery, the liklihood of the utility wearing a blue jersey this year would appear minimal but he did his hopes little harm with his performance against the Tigers. He is getting better each week which bodes well for the Eels given a fit and firing Gutherson makes them a difficult prospect for the 15 other NRL clubs.
Much of the second half was spent between the two twenties as both sides struggled to gain a territorial advantage. That the Eels were able to keep the whistle away form Matt Cecchin’s lips, they conceded just one penalty in the second forty, went a long way towards them being able to outpoint the Tigers in a gripping battle.
Tim Mannah off the bench provided much needed go forward his team. He has copped a lot of criticism for his form this year but it would take a hard judge not to be enthused by his afternoon. With 156m and 22 tackles he made each of his minutes on the park count.
Manu Ma’u also attacked the Tigers line with an aggression that was difficult to contain. Tireless all afternoon he laid 37 tackles while remaining a dangerous attacking runner throughout the 80 minutes. In the 68th minute his hard-running was rewarded when he ran onto a Corey Norman ball and burst through the defensive line to score what would be the game’s decisive try.
Another man who ran himself ragged was Kaysa Pritchard. The number nine tackled himself to a standstill. The target of Wests runners all day he tackled himself to a standstill completing 47 for the day. None more important than when Josh Aloiai directed his 110kg frame with towards him with just two minutes on the clock. Despite the vicious intent behind the charging Aloiai’s charge, Pritchard was up to the challenge. The impact caused the tough as nails hooker to recoil in pain afterwards but more importantly, it forced the Steeden from the Tigers grasp and to effectively end the contest.
The other positive for an Eels fan brought up on the exploits of Kenny and Sterling was the heritage jersey worn by the team for the match. A nod to the 1986 Premiership, to this Eels fan at least, it is the best jersey of the countless number they will wear this year.
It’s the Sharks again next week for the Eels. Unlike their Round Three encounter, they enter the match with the intangible benefit of confidence and momentum. Having reversed two earlier results in the last fortnight, they have the chance for a hat-trick of these results this weekend. In a quirk of the NRL fixture this year, despite the season being just nine rounds old, it will be the fourth opportunity for the Eels to extract revenge on a team they’ve already played.
Parramatta 24 (French, M. Jennings, Takairangi, Ma’u tries; Moses 4 goals) def Wests Tigers 22 (Thompson, Eisenhuth, Marshall tries; Marsters 5 goals)
Match Officials: Matt Cecchin, Phil Henderson. Sideline Officials: Chris Sutton, Grant Atkins.
Video Referee: Ashley Klein, Ben Galea.
Official Crowd: 17,555 at ANZ Stadium.