Parramatta’s late season charge for September continues to gather pace after the Eels methodically eased past a disappointing Canterbury side in the NRL’s Retro Round. After what might have been their best win of the season last week against the Broncos, there might have been fears of a let down in form against the lowly ranked Bulldogs. These thoughts were spectacularly hosed down in an opening forty minute performance of rare control and domination.
The Eels were forced into a change to their selected team with Tepai Moeroa unable to take his place and was replaced in the starting team by Kenny Edwards, allowing Frank Pritchard the opportunity to face his former team from the bench. Despite the reshuffle, the Eels didn’t miss a beat in the first half. Confronted with wet and slippery conditions the Eels were nearly faultless with ball in hand and gave their halves and outside backs the opportunity to work with a massive territorial advantage.
Despite only having joined forces mid-season, Corey Norman and Mitchell Moses have developed an incredible partnership in just six matches together. Against Canterbury this combination was again at it’s deadly best with both men causing all manner of headaches for the Bulldogs defensive line. Canterbury had no answer to the twin threats and Moses had an extraordinarily productive first half. Running for 30 metres including a line break to go along with assists for a line break and two tries. His ability to read the line at it’s most apparent when, with a massive right foot step he found himself in space in the 25th minute, before putting a flying Bevan French across the line for a try.
When Norman and Moses weren’t creating space and overlaps for their outside men, they were turning up the heat on Canterbury with their pinpoint kicking games. Like inflicting death by a 1000 cuts, the Eels’ halves relentlessly turned the Bulldogs around, forcing repeat sets six times in the first half. In a night full of positives, this persistent and disciplined pressurisation of their opponent might well have pleased Coach Brad Arthur most of all.
A week after suffering a concussion against the Broncos, in-form forward Nathan Brown was forced from the field in the 5th minute for medical attention after a clash of heads completing a tackle. With Brown receiving treatment, it was necessary for others to step up to cover his load and, the Eels were spoilt with forwards stepping up to cover the breach. Daniel Alvaro ran for 125 metres and completed 29 tackles in an explosive 40 minutes off the bench. The highlight of his night a devastating run close to the try line, that saw him carry three Bulldog defenders across the line for barnstorming try.
Kenny Edwards and Manu Ma’u both played 80 minutes and were strong from the very first minute until the final siren. After his week in the headlines for the wrong reasons, Edwards’ performance was exceptional. Hitting the line like a freight train he ran for 151 metres while also laying 35 tackles as the Eels defence strangled the Bulldogs out of the contest. Cameron King continues to blossom in his role in hooker after his long awaited return to First Grade this season. The hooker laid a back breaking 49 tackles and created more problems for the Doggies defence, with his kicking game and dummy half runs adding yet another layer to the Eels’ already deadly attacking game.
In another example of the adage ‘that you can’t keep a good guy down’, Brown returned to the ground after 19 minutes of attention. Despite being much more accustomed to playing the full 80-minutes, Brown did not let his reduced role affect his output. In 61 minutes he ran straight and hard at the Canterbury line, still covering nearly 200 metres and making 35 tackles. If he can continue his form until season’s end, he will have a extremely compelling case for selection in Australia’s World Cup Squad at season’s end.
The exclamation point on the Eels first half dominance came with a 32nd minute try to Semi Radradra. The winger crashed over from close range after the Bulldogs defence were left bewildered by Moses moving the ball from one side to the other while feigning to kick. Instead the half moved the ball wide to Brad Takairangi who quickly passed it on to Radradra on the outside of the Bulldogs line who gleefully crossed for his 10th try in his last 9 matches against the Bulldogs.
The damage could have been worse for the Bulldogs if not for a bewildering knock on ruling by the referee with Corey Norman likely to score. Television replays indicated that a no-try ruling would have been overturned and a four pointer awarded to Norman if the referee had chosen to use The Bunker rather than his seemingly faulty eye. That said, despite Tony Archer’s protestations otherwise, with The Bunker’s propensity for error there is no guarantee of anything had they been deployed in this instance.
With a 16-0 lead at the half-time break, there was no real chance of the Eels being challenged in the second half. However, with conditions worsening to the point of large puddles pooling along the sidelines, the crisp attacking of the first half was not present in the second forty. While much less crisp and expansive with ball in hand, they continued to suffocate the Bulldogs with their high completion rate. With Norman and Moses continuing to apply the pressure on Canterbury with their precision kicking game they offered their opponent no respite.
Even in the games’ final minutes, their vision and precision remained a feature. In the 79th minute Moses sensed an opportunity from a scrum win on the Eels’ own 30 metre line. Receiving the ball at first receiver from Cameron King, Moses hoisted the ball down field, giving his outside man Michael Jennings a foot race to perhaps win the ball and score a try. While the kick did not result in a long range try, with Jennings ultimately beaten to the ball by Brett Morris, Moses’ 70 metre kick did force the Bulldogs into yet another drop out. That the resulting restart would see a penalty awarded against Josh Reynolds for taking the drop out 2 metres inside the field of play, was almost a perfect microcosm of the preceding 80 minutes. Despite their best efforts the Bulldogs simply could not match the discipline and attention to detail of their opponents.
In what might prove a major dampener on the Eels win, a hamstring injury to Bevan French prevented him from taking the field in the second half. The in-form fullback had earlier extended his try-scoring streak to a sixth game. This personal stretch coinciding with his teams winning run. It would appear that the Eels would require a fit French if they were to continue their gathering charge but many thought the same thing when Clint Gutherson suffered his season ending injury, yet the Eels continue to confound expectations.
Parramatta have now won their last seven games at ANZ Stadium and 13 of their last 16 at the venue. With only one game away from Homebush between now and the end of the season, hopes continue to grow of a top four finish and a serious tilt at the Premiership.
“I didn’t think so earlier in the season. If they finish top four, anything can happen.
“You wouldn’t want to be playing Parramatta in that last month, not with their confidence up.” Peter Sterling on Channel 9 when asked if the Eels can win the Premiership
There is still some water to go under the bridge before the Provan-Summons Trophy is awarded on Grand Final day, but for the first time in some time, there is genuine hope for Eels fans. After the sagas of recent seasons it is definitely much more exciting to be dreaming of what might be rather than dreading it.
Parramatta 20 (Alvaro, French, Radradra tries; Moses 4 goals) defeated
Canterbury Bankstown 4 (Montoya try)
Match Officials: Grant Atkins, Gavin Reynolds.
Sideline Officials: Belinda Sleeman, Nick Beashel.
Video Referee: Bernard Sutton, Luke Patten.
Official Crowd: 12,137 at ANZ Stadium