We don’t want to get too far ahead, it’s really important with how tight the competition is, that we do win tonight. If we do consider ourselves to be a threat in the Semi Finals, we need to win tonight. It’s a must win game for us.
Brad Arthur – Pregame on Fox League
After six straight victories, a spot in the top four was on offer if the Eels could defeat the competitions bottom placed team. Despite this, and Brad Arthur’s assertion of the importance of victory, Parramatta fluffed their lines and as a result, questions will now be asked to the team’s bona fides as a premiership contender in 2017.
It was a disappointing way for captain, and club stalwart, Tim Mannah to bring up 200 first grade games. Relentless in his efforts he is a much beloved figure amongst Parramatta fans. A local junior, Mannah has been a bullocking mainstay of the Eels team since his debut in 2009. Just the 12th man to play 200 games for the Eels, the teams performance on this night was no reflection of the standing he has within the club and the Rugby League community.
That Parramatta would be in for a long night was on show early, when Mitch Moses and Cameron King had crossed wires in the Eels second set gifting the Knights an opportunity to set up camp deep in attack. It would prove a costly error, the next time the Eels had ball in hand they trailed the Knights 12-0. So precise in the wet against the Bulldogs a week earlier, regular errors throughout against the Knights meant the Eels struggled to find continuity or build any kind of pressure.
Unable to compete in the arm-wrestle in the middle of the ruck, too often the Eels attempted to force the ball wide without any real success. Their inability to go forward reflected by the fact that only four forwards ran for over 100 metres and that the team ranked last for metres gained, was able to out run them by over 300 metres.
Briefly in the latter stages of the first half the Eels showed signs of life, completing 10 of their last 13 sets they worked their way back into the contest. Michael Jennings reminded us of how great a sight he is full flight, after receiving a great ball from Mitch Moses, he jinked past two defenders before beating Dane Gagai in a race to the line as he sprinted 60 metres to the line. When Will Smith scored off a 40th minute kick from Norman, after the Knights conceded a number of cynical penalties on the Eels line, it appeared that Parramatta might have wrestled the ascendancy back as the teams went to the sheds for the half time interval.
Any sense of this ascendancy was completely lost in the early stages of the second half where during one stretch the Eels managed to complete just two of seven sets. With Newcastle close to perfect during the same period, Parramatta were forced to complete a mountain of defensive work completing nearly 40% more tackles than the Knights by games end. In this, ultimately futile, rear guard action there was a number of brave efforts. Lionhearted Nathan Brown completed 57 tackles to go along with 133 metres gained, Cameron King threw himself into a whopping 58 tackles, while Daniel Alvaro also brought up a half century of tackles in only 54 minutes off the bench.
Despite these efforts, weight of possession and territory was too much to overcome and the dam wall eventually broke. Tries to Fitzgibbon, Lamb, and Sio saw the contest decided in an electric thirteen minute Knights burst. In some ways the Eels were lucky that Newcastle were happy to effectively run the clock down from here. With Parramatta at sixes and sevens, the eventual 19-point margin could have been much worse had the Knights been intent on striking while the iron was hot.
Coach Brad Arthur didn’t mess words while summing up the performance post match . “They (Newcastle) wanted to complete, they wanted a tough win, they wanted to run hard, they wanted to complete, they wanted to kick long. It didn’t look like we did.”
The plain talking coach will have his work cut out for him when he attempts to address the game with his charges during the week, so will Referees boss Tony Archer. For the second week in succession we saw an NRL coach slapped with a $10,000 fine for disparaging comments about game officials. In the second half we saw another example of why coaches and fans have such little faith in NRL officials.
With Parramatta on the back foot and Newcastle looking likely to again breach their line, Ken Sio was brought to ground. With team mates in support Sio tried his luck and offloaded the ball despite the fact that, to everyone but Henry Perenara, the tackle seemed to be complete.
It was a bewildering decision by Perenara, who did little to assuage this feeling when explaining his decision to a despairing Corey Norman, after the Knights scored on the set of six secured from the drop-out. In essence Perenara, a man who has played Test Match Rugby League and is charged with adjudicating the laws of the game, saw the same play we all did and made a mistake an Under 10 wouldn’t make.
Most commentators have been quick to point out that the mistake ultimately had no bearing on the result, which is correct. Newcastle was the much better team and would have won comprehensively despite this decision. This should not shield Perenara from sanction for committing an error a school boy wouldn’t make.
Rather than spending their time trying to brow beat coaches out of questioning the standard of officials, it is perhaps high time that the NRL allocated these energies towards improving the standard of refereeing. Mistakes like Perenara’s simply should not happen.
The wonderful thing about football is that the opportunity to redeem yourself is never far away. For Parramatta this opportunity presents itself with the visit of the Gold Coast Titans on Thursday night. Despite this blip, a double chance in the finals remains within reach if they can rediscover their form. Will they grab this opportunity or let it slip through their hands.
Newcastle 29 (Sio 2, Barnett, Fitzgibbon, Lamb tries; Hodkinson 4 goals; Lamb field goal) def Parramatta 10 (Jennings, Smith try; Moses goal)
Match Officials: Henry Perenara, Chris Butler.
Touch Judges: Ricky McFarlane, Jason Walsh.
Video Referee: Jared Maxwell, Ben Galea.
Official Crowd: 13,141 at ANZ Stadium.