‘Just wait 15 minutes, it’ll change’
For decade’s the punchline to a gag about the weather in Melbourne, it is now equally true of the momentum in Parramatta games in 2017. A fact we saw again in the Eels Round 13 clash with the Warriors at ANZ Stadium on Friday night. In 80 minutes of footy, the Eels were electric in attack early, sloppy in defence in parts, before ultimately completing a gritty victory, out on their feet, after surviving much of the second half with just one fit man on their bench.
After 10 minutes the Eels had taken a 12-0 lead, and even with Kaysa Pritchard already in the sheds seeing stars, there wouldn’t have been many people predicting the drama to follow. Behind the relentless go forward of the pack the Parramatta backline seemed able to break the Warriors defence at will. However, before you could finish answering why the Warriors were so terrible away from home, some poor discipline and defence from the Eels meant that scores were level at 12.
The gathering grey clouds after their bright start seemed darker still when Josh Hoffman hobbled from the field with an injured knee. The former Bronco would not return to the match, joining a rather large, and talented contingent of Eels watching on from the sidelines. As he and Pritchard took their places alongside the likes of Corey Norman, Michael Jennings, Tim Mannah and Siosia Vave among others, the predicament of those left to carry on looked dire with only two fit men on the sideline.
With the medical room being worked to breaking point, it would be necessary for the Eels to take advantage of any opportunity that came their way if they were to have any chance of victory. One such moment presented itself in the shadows of half-time. With the Warriors on the attack the supremely talented Shaun Johnson, rather than dribbling a kick behind the Eels line, somehow managed to drop the ball at David Gower’s feet. The second rower was quick to pounce up the bewildering mistake, quickly shovelling the ball out to Clint Gutherson who in turn, put Semi Radradra into space, and on a 90-metre sprint to the try line. A devastating fend ended the despairing chase of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, and the French Rugby-bound flyer helped take the Eels out to an 18-12 halftime lead.
Despite limited rotations, there was no drop of intensity from the Eels after the break. Nathan Brown, back in the side after a rib injury, was back to bullocking best. The Backrower’s workload was mind blowing, he played all 80 minutes, ran for 178-metres and laid 39 tackles. As good as he was, it was far from a one out effort, his scrum mates were enormous too. Daniel Alvaro ran for over 100-metres too and laid 33 tackles, Suaia Matagi ran for over 150 metres and ‘The Fresh Prince’ Will Smith managed 41 tackles after deputising for the injured Pritchard.
Then there was the performance of ever energetic, one of a kind, Kenny Edwards. The 27-year-old New Zealander steals your attention away whenever he is on the park. Like Heath Ledger as the Joker in The Dark Knight, his intensity and unpredictability mean you cannot take your eyes away from him. Against the Warriors, we saw a little bit of everything from Edwards, hyper-enthusiastic celebration of opposition mistakes, theatrical falls, extended injury breaks, and an extraordinary display of straight running. Relentless and ferocious he ran at the visitor’s line, while not officially credited with a line break, each time he hit the tackler he looked likely to run right through him.
Despite the best efforts of Edwards and co, when Tuivasa-Sheck managed to leave three defenders clutching at air in the 72nd minute, the Eels lead that had been 14 only minutes earlier had been reduced to a mere two points. It seemed inevitable that the Eels would succumb to the twin forces of momentum and energy levels sapped to breaking point by limited interchange opportunities. Instead behind Edwards, they stood tall, the last four times the Eels had the ball, his runs were the most lethal of the sets. His last, combined with a lightning-quick play the ball, set Gutherson up for the match securing try. A moment quite rightly enthusiastically celebrated.
The try was the icing on top of another top-shelf performance from Gutherson. While often in the shadow of bigger names, he has been the one constant in the Eels’ halves this season, he has shown an incredible game sense and play-making abilities beyond many pundits’ expectations. His goal-kicking has also improved to a highly dependable level, this consistency most evident in his newly found position as the leading point scorer in the NRL.
A trip to the Red Centre, and the North Queensland Cowboys, lie ahead for the Eels next weekend. With the expanding injury list, the resilience of the group will be tested, but if the last minutes of this game are anything to go by, it is a test they will relish.