It took the Eels just 35 seconds to open the scoring in their 34-16 victory over St George in Wollongong. Dragons forward Russell Packer spilled the ball carrying the first hit-up of the game (he didn’t even reach the defensive line). From there it was a succession of quick passing by the Eels, with Gutherson straightening and going through a hole to score.
From that point on the Eels essentially took control of the game. They were nearly tireless in defence, constantly turning back the Dragons forwards, their cohesive line speed working quickly to shut down any hint of a tackle bust or line break. In attack they proved that they are officially once again a true threat, with Norman steering them left and right with aplomb.
It was left that they went for most of the first half, with two more tries being rung up by Radradra, who combined brilliantly with centre Jennings to bamboozle the Dragons wing defence. Jennings produced what must be the play of the round when he sent a flick pass through his legs for Semi to score off. Norman showed his short kicking game is pin sharp, putting on an excellent grubber for Brad Takairangi.
It wasn’t until after the 30th minute that the Dragons finally struck back, with Widdop slicing through to score next to the posts. The scores remained 18-6 going into the break.
The Eels were relentless in the second half, with Bevan French producing some extremely nifty footwork to make his way past defenders and pick up a try. The Dragons hit back with Dugan scoring off a somewhat fractured play where the ball ultimately ended up going the right way for the Red V, which didn’t seem to phase Parra, who simply responded with another Radradra try just five minutes later.
The trading of tries continued, with the Dragons making their way up field courtesy of a trio of penalties, culminating in a very soft try to Paul Vaughan. This was the only lowlight for the Eels, but they may have simply been caught out by the constant advance of the Dragons finding touch for territory.
The Blue and Gold had the final laugh however, getting to the Dragons line and going wide to the right, where young French laid on a fantastic inside pass to secure Radradra’s fourth try of the evening.
The scoring from the backline was supported by the non-stop work from the forwards, in particular Manu M’au and Nathan Brown, both of whom made double digit hit-ups for 157 and 129 metres respectively. Last week’s hero Suaia Matagi overcame a head knock and subsequent HIA to produce a solid effort, including an absolute monster tackle on Debellin late in the second half.
The Dragons were clearly not the same side that downed the Panthers in round one, but one gets the feeling that it wouldn’t have mattered too much – this current incarnation of the Eels is a well polished unit, equally strong in defence as they are in attack. With a struggling Titans outfit next week the Eels will be keen to widen their points differential before taking on the Sharks in round four, their first real litmus test of 2017.