There was a time when a clash between Parramatta and Canterbury was eagerly anticipated by all Rugby League followers. The two clubs dominated the 1980’s sharing eight premierships between them during a glorious period for both teams. While it may longer be the marquee match-up it once was, it is one that both supporter groups look forward to. The round 17 clash, that required golden point for a victor to be decided would have done little to temper this enthusiasm.
Mitchell Moses proved the match winner for the Eels with his field goal in golden point giving his team a thrilling victory over their arch-rival but it was the match officials in the spotlight after the game. Two decisions, one in the games’ opening minutes and one in its closing stages, causing the most consternation amongst observers.
Canterbury coach Des Hasler was displeased with the penalty awarded to Parramatta in Golden Point. “The penalty in extra-time was a pretty tough call, to be honest,” the veteran coach said. “It was from the pocket referee. And I think he got it wrong.” It must be said though that Hasler hasn’t had a defeat as a coach that wasn’t accompanied by some complaint about a refereeing decision.
Hasler was a little less forthcoming with his thoughts on the Bunker’s decision not to award a penalty try to Parramatta in the games’ opening minutes. An errant pass from Canterbury’s Will Hopoate set up a chase between Mitchell Moses and Marcelo Montoya for the loose ball that sat invitingly in the Parramatta in-goal. We will never know for certain who would have won the race for the ball but Montoya’s illegal push suggests what the Bulldog thought of his chances of beating the Eel to the ball. Not persuaded by Montoya’s actions, The Bunker ruled the offence only warranted a penalty and sin-binning rather than a penalty try. Fair to say St George Illawarra would have appreciated this interpretation of the rule had it been applied to events in the 1999 Grand Final.
When in the 34th minute, Moses, Corey Norman, and Clint Gutherson all combined to send Semi Radradra over to score and extend the Eels lead to 12-2, the idea that the game might be decided by a contentious penalty seemed extremely unlikely. In an extremely patient and methodical opening to the game, Parramatta had given the Bulldogs very little opportunities and appeared on the brink of blowing the game wide open.
It had been a dour struggle contested for the most part between the two teams 20-metre lines, in fact when Parramatta scored their first try they had yet to be tackled inside their attacking red zone. Some attacking brilliance from Bevan French was at play in the team’s first try but it before Radradra extended the lead, but it was the dominance of the Eels pack and a precise kicking game that had Parramatta seemingly winning the gripping arm wrestle in the middle of the ground.
Moses and Corey Norman were almost impeccable when it came to the decision-making and execution of their kicking game in the opening half of the game. Moses came close to two 40/20’s, the first an exceptional kick after a terrible last play found him with the ball, after it passed through the hands of a number of his teammates, with very little time or space. The second lead the Parramatta chasers and forcing Hopoate into an error that ultimately led to the Eels’ second four-pointer. Norman, in his last chance to impress Queensland selectors before Origin 3, was equally precise, when he was not finding space he was causing the Bulldogs’ back three all manner of headaches as they attempted to defuse vicious bombs.
The platform that Moses and Norman had to work behind was laid in large part by the go forward of Nathan Brown. The energetic lock has been a revelation for the Eels this season and his form would no doubt have grabbed the attention of representative selectors. It was another super human night for him against the Bulldogs, running for 246 metres and completing 43 tackles in his 82-minute stint.
The season-ending injury suffered by Kaysa Pritchard was a devastating blow for the hooker and the Eels, with the Samoan International seemingly having found his feet in the NRL. Pritchard’s devastating story did, however, give Cameron King to write his own fairytale, making his first NRL start in 733 days. King, a former Dragon and Cowboy, has had a career so frequently interrupted by injury, before Thursday night, he had only managed 21 games in 8 years in the NRL. He will be better for the run and his next wait for an NRL game will be exponentially shorter than the last.
Where the Eels had just gained the upper hand in the match before the interval, the Bulldogs didn’t allow them into the contest at all in the second stanza. Almost completely starved of possession Parramatta’s discipline with ball in hand had very little time to have any impact. With the game almost exclusively played at their defensive end, the Eels’ bravery was tested to its absolute limits. That Parramatta’s defence held up under this onslaught prompted praise from coach Brad Arthur in the post-match press conference. “Every win is important for us but it’s probably more important for us that we backed up last week’s performance defensively,” Arthur said.“A couple of areas tonight in defence that we have to get right but I thought the last two weeks our defence has been nice and strong and nice and committed.”
If the Eels feel they have passed a searing examination this week, an even tougher assignment lies in wait for them next week when they travel south to face the Melbourne Storm. Despite the competition leaders being weakened by Origin commitments, they will still provide a stern test for the men in blue and gold.