A sluggish start and a spluttering finish proved costly in the Eels Round 11 clash with Canberra. Stung by a meek effort the week earlier, Parramatta took the challenge right up to the 2016 Preliminary Finalists. Overcoming an early 10-0 lead, the Eels appeared likely victors before being overrun in the final stages.
In the Number 21 jumper, Mitchel Moses took the field for his first game for Parramatta after the long-drawn out affair that was his release from the Wests Tigers. His pairing with Clint Gutherson in the halves the fifth combination the Eels have had to try in 11 rounds. Having played for the Tigers last weekend it was perhaps no surprise that the synergy between him and his outside men was a little lacking. Despite this he showed glimpses of what made him such an attractive signing to Brad Arthur and the Parramatta brains trust. His long kicking game was strong, while his shorter efforts were more of a mixed bag on this night. It was a solid base upon which to start his time in Blue and Gold.
Having taken the lead by winning the battle around the ruck through a combination of aggression and power, the Eels would surrender it through a lack of finesse. Well in the ascendency, the Eels had Canberra well contained in their own half when Kenny Edwards conceded a 5th tackle penalty to gift the Raiders an attacking set they appeared unlikely to earn. As is so often the case, Canberra took advantage of their good fortune and levelled the scores. While better judges than this columnist might suggest the penalty was another example of loose ball lotto, the Eels defence on their line was diabolical in response. With scores level they still had chances to regain the lead, Daniel Alvaro went agonisingly close only to be denied by some frantic Raiders goal line defence. Bevan French had a chance too, having the ball slapped from his hands as he looked to ground a Michael Jennings kick. Then, having looked the team most likely to break the deadlock, it was the Eels who blinked, conceding the lead in the shadows of full time.
Like a week earlier, against the Roosters, injury compounded Parramatta’s defeat. Nathan Brown, Parra Post Mortem’s favourite Eel in 2017, could only manage 21 minutes before succumbing to a rib injury. After an 80-minute performance the week before, the hard-running back rower was sorely missed against the Raiders. Michael Jennings was also forced from the field after nearly turning provider for Bevan French. The injury not just ending an outstanding performance from Jennings it also put an end to his claims for a State of Origin berth. The Eels will be sweating on his injured quad as an extended absence would prove a damaging blow to the Eels left hand side.
Jennings’ partner in crime on the left-hand side, Semi Radradra, looked likely to break the game open almost every time he had his hands on the ball. It was the rampaging Fijian’s damaging run that was responsible for Jennings’ first half try. At close to his bullocking best, the Canberra defenders had their hands full every time they tried to stop him. It was this ability to skittle defenders that nearly saw the Eels retake the lead. Having hit the defensive line at pace, Radradra was able to put Jennings into space. It was an opening that the centre nearly made the Raiders pay for, as his kick back inside ended a desperate swipe away from becoming try assist for Bevan French.
While we joked last week that the only positive from the defeat to the Roosters was the fact that we hadn’t lost to Newcastle, in some ways this defeat was more painful. With all due respect to Canberra who were deserving winners, they were there to be beaten for much of the match. Even in the game’s dying stages and Canberra’s desperate defence stretching to breaking point in front of them, looking for the avenue to the levelling score the Eels turned over the ball. Canberra’s wingers scored twice while avoiding the oppressively close sideline while Parramatta were never able to find that level of precision. At the end of 80 minutes, the Eels had won more metres but had lost the millimetres.