Perhaps ironically, despite winning nine of their last ten game it was perhaps after their
NRL Finals: A Fans Frustration16-18 Qualifying Final defeat at the hands of the Melbourne Storm that Parramatta’s Premiership credentials were finally considered genuine. In what may prove to be a Grand Final preview, the unfancied Eels took it right up to the Melbourne Storm in Cameron Smith’s Record Breaking 356th First Grade Game and nearly ran away with a famous win.
Unable to quell the Storm’s run early, the Eels found themselves quickly on the back foot and behind on the scoreboard through a “controversial” fourth minute try to Josh Addo-Carr. Unlucky to concede in this instance, and struggling to find any footing in the contest with the weight of ball favouring the Minor Premiers 76% – 24%, fortune finally favoured the Eels when Cameron Munster came up inches short when trying to double the Storm’s advantage in the 13th minute.
Having avoided the hangman’s noose the game turned on a massive defensive play from Will Smith that provided the Eels some much needed ball and territory. With Curtis Scott
in space and steaming towards the Eels line, Smith laid a sensational tackle to jar the ball loose from the Storm centre’s grasp. Then, having regathered the loose ball, Smith was able to entice Scott into a two man strip of the ball giving the Eels only their second penalty of the match and six tackles in their attacking half.
As the wheel was beginning to slowly turn in the Eels favour, they suffered an ultimately devastating blow, with Tepai Moeroa forced to leave the ground and unable to return as a result of a head knock.
The Eels kick and chase game was unable to cause Billy Slater and the Storm three-quarters much trouble, but with ball in hand they were asking the Melbourne defence an awful lot of questions. No surprise then, that gifted a repeat set inside after the sin-binning of Cameron Munster in their attacking half that they were able to open the Storm up with well worked play that sent Kirisome Auva’a away on the right hand edge.
On the very next set they almost grabbed the lead, with only The Bunker standing between Kirisome Auva’a and an early double. Kenny Edwards was ruled to have knocked on in his efforts to tap the Corey Norman kick backwards. It was one of a number of bewilderingly inconsistent calls from referee Ben Cummins. He is perhaps the only person on this planet that can explain how he was able to decide this ball went forward, by single digit centremetres at best, yet rule that Curtis Scott’s pass for Josh Addo-Carr’s try could be touched by Kirisome Auva’a infront of the passer without the ball itself going forward.
The Eels would not be denied for long, a wicked bomb from Mitchell Moses on the next visit to their attacking half brought an error from Suliasi Vunivalu. With another set on the Storm’s line the Eels again benefited from Munster’s absence when a sublime look away ball from Moses sent Will Smith across for a try and give the team a well deserved lead.
It would be fair to say that it was a very relieved Storm team when the siren sounded to end the first half with the Eels lead just 10-4. Perhaps more than just a little lucky too with Cooper Cronk having changed his line twice to block Brad Takairangi’s run at a Mitchell Moses kick. Having turned his back on the ball Cronk knocked Takairangi to the ground preventing him from having a play at a ball that was allowed to bounce. With the ball bouncing dangerously only metres from the try line a penalty would have extended the Eels lead outside one converted try. For Referee Cummins an illegal block preventing a genuine play at a dangerously placed ball was not worthy of a penalty in this instance, yet presented with a player without a genuine play at a very non-threatening ball being illegally blocked he felt compelled to issue a penalty in the second half. There is no defence of the silly play by the Eels ……. that brought a penalty for Billy Slater, it’s just bewildering that Cummins so haphazardly enforced the rule when presented with reasons to and even more bewildering that the incident in which a player had no play at the ball was the one he decided warranted sanction.
It was a wonderfully dominant final twenty minutes of the first half. In attack the Eels caused the Storm all manner of concerns, while time and time again in defence they disrupted their much vaunted composure and rhythm. As harsh as it is to say, in the final wash up it was perhaps the inability of the Eels to extract full toll for their dominance in this period that ultimately proved their undoing in a thrilling contest.
The second half proved a stand them up, knock them down affair as both teams worked tirelessly for the advantage. With both defences in the ascendancy, the best attacking opportunities came from broken down plays when structure went out the window. By games end it was the Storm who had emerged victorious. The Eels have reason to be aggrieved with the Storm’s first try scored from a forward pass/knock on that saw Tim Glasby steal the ball from Cooper Cronk’s hand whilst standing in front of him and the second on the back of the blocking penalty that, despite Referee Cummins’ pledge to Beau Scott that it would be applied equally to both sides, only seemed to be a penalty if against Billy Slater.
“I haven’t really worried about to too much [throughout the season] and I don’t need to worry about it now. We just have to get on with what we need to do and there is plenty of things we need to improve, particulary our discipline, to give ourselves a chance.” Brad Arthur – Post Match
It was a telling press conference from Arthur who, perhaps for the first time, allowed himself to be drawn in on the question of officiating. When a man as measured as Arthur is compelled to comment it paints a picture of how deplorable it actually was. It was equally telling that he refused to use this as a reason for his team’s defeat, more concerned with his team’s discipline of lack of it in the second half.
The way this team has performed over the last two seasons it shouldn’t have surprised anyone that they would produce such a brave performance in a game where many gave them no hope. While there is no such thing as an honourable defeat, in this loss the Eels have shown that their Premiership aspirations are no ambit claim. There aren’t any more second chances but there remains only three more victories between this group and the club’s long awaited fifth premiership.
Melbourne 18 (Addo-Carr, Bromwich, Slater tries; Smith 3 goals) def
Parramatta 16 (Auva’a, Smith, Radradra tries; Moses 2 goals)
Match Officials: Ben Cummins, Chris Sutton.
Sideline Officials: Brett Suttor, Tim Roby.
Video Referee: Jarred Maxwell, Ben Galea.
Official Crowd: 22,626 at AAMI Stadium.