The Round 20 clash between the Eels and the Tigers provided Parramatta’s mid-season acquisition Mitchell Moses, his first opportunity to face off against the team he left. Perhaps more importantly though, for the first time the two teams competed for the Stay Kind Cup.
Stay Kind Day and the Stay Kind Cup was an initiative of the NRL, Parramatta and Wests Tigers in partnership with the Thomas Kelly Youth Foundation to raise awareness and prevention of suicide. The program launched in loving memory of Stuart Kelly, son to Ralph Kelly and Kathy Kelly, in honour of his continued support and kindness to others. Stuart was a great supporter of his beloved Parramatta Eels while his Dad, Ralph, supports the Wests Tigers. In support of the initiative Parramatta wore predominantly yellow jerseys.
“Youth who elect to take their own life may feel blue from depression or a sadness that has not been shared with others. Taking the blue away from the Parramatta Eels jersey colours is a powerful message by the Parramatta Eels to our youth and the community and that message is: “We are here to support you and we can help take those blues away.”
Ralph Kelly – Thomas Kelly Youth Foundation
While both sides were honoured to join together pre-game to promote the mission of Stay Kind:
“Caring for one another in family, sport, work and school. As a caring compassionate community, we can help prevent suicide in Australia.”
The metaphorical battlelines were redrawn upon the first whistle and the two sides engaged in a gripping battle. The nail-biting nature of the contest wasn’t immediately apparent with the Eels quickly opening the scoring in the first three minutes. Perhaps the ease with which Parramatta drew first blood, played a part in the difficulty they eventually encountered, as they seemed intent on attacking at all cost without winning the battle in the middle of the ruck.
French’s try was in fact the final act in a captivating opening three minutes of play, more eventful than some halves of football. The Tigers’ kick off to start the match was acrobatically taken by Cory Norman, who needed to be prevented from taking the ball dead by captain Tim Mannah. The same set started so sensationally ended a little controversially, with Mitch Moses being taken high and late by Luke Brooks after sending a kick downfield. In a trifecta of entertaining kicks, Wests’ first kick was returned with great gusto by Clint Gutherson. The flying fullback heading towards the short side in his run was nearly bundled into touch before a clever off-load saw Semi Radradra released into space. With the Tigers only able to bring the flying Fijian down 30-metres out from the line, it seemed inevitable that the Eels would score with five tackles up there sleeve so close to the line, and it proved so.
If referees boss Tony Archer needs any explanation as to why Sia Soliola was not sent off on Saturday night during the Raiders’ clash with the Storm, he need look no further than Brooks’ late “tackle” on Moses. In a game in which the kicker is meant to be protected and the shoulder charge outlawed, contact like that on Moses is surprisingly frequent. Brooks is incredibly late on the scene and has no realistic shot on the ball, has his arms tucked in and makes no attempt to tackle, leaves the ground and makes contact with Moses’ head. That the game considers this action to not even be worthy of a penalty, you can understand why referees might not consider Soliola’s shot on Slater to be worthy of a send off.
Brooks and Moses remain housemates despite the latter’s departure from the Tigers this year. With this knowledge you might suspect that Moses left his dishes in the sink or finished the milk without replacing it, because Brooks bookended his opening minute cheap shot on Moses was with an 80th minute trip on the Eels half. As already discussed, the first blow received no sanction and the second would have also, if not for the intervention of The Bunker. Incredibly, with two referees and a touch judge standing within two metres of the most blatant trip this side of Adam Reynolds, would have gone unnoticed if not for the Eels’ players remonstrations giving The Bunker sufficient time to review it. The right decision was ultimately reached, but a worrying precedent may well have been set that encourages teams to remonstrate to allow the video official enough time to review events.
After racing out to a 6-0 lead the Eels watched a moment of James Tedesco brilliance level the scores. Receiving an off-load from Aaron Woods the Tigers side of halfway, the New South Wales fullback, showed an electric turn of pace and a brilliant stutter step to breeze past three defenders to score. A few minutes later the lead was lost altogether when a ‘lost ball lotto’ decision went the Tigers way. Woods jumped at the chance to take two points on a fortuitous last tackle call after looking unlikely to breach the Eels defence.
It was a deserved lead for Wests who had been the only team prepared for the grind of the contest. By the latter stages of the first half the Tigers discipline, they had completed 15 of 16 sets, had seen them gain a distinct territorial and possession advantage over the sloppy Eels. Parramatta’s attacking mindset, that in the early stages looked likely to blow the Tigers away, had instead resulted in a completion rate of 6 from 10 in the face of the Tigers disciplined approach.
Despite their poor ball retention, the attacking weapons at their disposal proved decisive in the shadow of half-time when an 80-metre kick return and a penalty gave the Eels a chance to set up camp in the Tigers’ half. Given time to attack the Tigers line, Parramatta were irrepressible, and a brilliant cut-out ball from Norman saw Radradra stroll across the line for his fifth try in as many matches against Wests. With 71 tries from 85 appearances, The French Rugby bound winger has been a dominant force for the Eels in his time in the NRL. Reports during the week suggesting he has no intention of a Parramatta return in the future are a devastating blow but with his future decided his form in recent weeks has been a sight to behold.
While the players enjoyed the half-time break in hostilities the message from Brad Arthur was a simple one. He implored his team to enter a set for set battle with the Tigers and to grind out a win after the previous weekend’s bye. It was imperative that they cut down on their own errors and Wests ability to offload because both would kill them if they remained unchecked. He would not be happy with his team’s response as each of his recommendations went seemingly ignored for the balance of the titanic struggle.
On the other hand Wests continued with their blue print from the first half to maintain possession at all costs, create broken field play from off-loads and bomb away unrelentingly to Bevan French’s wing. With the Eels unable to retain the ball, all three of the Tigers strategies would ultimately bear fruit as they were able to spend large portions of the match at Parramatta’s end. Two penalty goals, one on the fourth tackle, to go with the first half’s fifth tackle penalty, gave the Wests the lead and the momentum.
Fortunately for the Eels, like it had in the first half, their array of attacking weapons was able to create an opportunity from limited opportunities. Having completed 18 of 27 sets, a seemingly harmless offload on the Eels side of halfway, found Radradra flatfooted but in space. The giant winger needed no invitation and he set off towards the try line, a flying Clint Gutherson followed in support and was on hand for the off-load to score a four-pointer and retake the lead for his team.
Having retaken the lead in the final quarter of the game against a team, that for the most part looked unthreatening in attack, should have been reason for confidence. However the Eels’ final twenty minutes of games have been diabolical, having been outscored by nine tries throughout this period in 2017. With this knowledge it was not surprising then that the Tigers found a way to level the scores through another bomb directed to Bevan French. The Eels winger didn’t have to ponder his mistake long, with Tigers kicker Tuimoala Lolohea missing the conversion and Corey Norman stepping up to decide the game.
With Wests tormenting the Eels all game through the use of the off-load it was perhaps ironic that it would be as a result of a poorly timed one from their skipper that would gift the Eels the chance to score the decisive point. There is no chance that Norman’s field goal would win any beauty contest but it was enough to claim the competition points for his team on this day.
It would prove a win despite their ill-discipline, the Eels gifted the Tigers 6 points through penalty goals and finished the game with a completion rate in the 60’s. It was also be victory at a mighty cost with in-form fullback Clint Gutherson seeming to injure his knee in an awkward 78th minute tackle. Having put themselves in a position to return to the finals, they will now need to confront the play-offs without their best performed player.
Parramatta 17 (French, Radradra, Gutherson tries; Gutherson 2 goals; Norman field goal) defeated Wests Tigers 16 (Tedesco, Watene-Zelezniak tries; Lolohea 4 goals).
Match officials: Adam Gee, Chris Sutton.
Sideline Officials: Rohan Best, Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski.
Video Referees: Luke Patten, Bernard Sutton.
Official Crowd: 30,901 at ANZ Stadium.