A Luke Brooks field goal and a booming Pat Richards penalty from halfway have helped Wests Tigers edge out Parramatta 21-18 in a thrilling end-to-end Easter Monday special, played in front of a record-breaking crowd of 50,668 at ANZ Stadium.
The Eels outscored the visitors four tries to three on the back of a healthy dose of Jarryd Hayne magic but Chris Sandow's one goal from four attempts and Richards' four from four, plus Brooks' field goal, proved the difference.
Two of the Tigers' tries were length-of-the-field efforts against the run of play, putting an exclamation mark on the nature of the game - one decided as much by crucial errors as attacking brilliance – with both sides producing plenty of each.
The crowd that filed in for the frenetic, occasionally scrappy but hugely entertaining Easter Monday clash was the biggest of the year so far, the most ever for an Eels game against Balmain or Wests Tigers, and the highest Eels regular season home crowd at ANZ Stadium. It was only slightly short of Parramatta's best ever regular season home crowd of 51,919 against St George at the SCG in 1964.
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Parramatta started the stronger of the two sides, with Hayne registering a double within 23 minutes of the kick off.
The first followed some good lead up work from Sandow, who double-pumped close to the line to put his fullback into half a gap, from where Hayne surged through the line and used his considerable strength to shrug off several defenders and plant the ball inside the right hand corner post.
He scored his second on almost the same blade of grass 15 minutes later on the back of one of the Tigers' eight first half errors, this time going himself with a clean line break 20 out and streaking away to beat Tigers fullback Kurtis Rowe to the line.
However Sandow failed to convert both four-pointers, to help keep the Tigers within striking distance.
The Eels continued to play enterprising and attacking footy, with a number of risky offloads hitting their mark and a Sandow chip and chase almost reaping rewards.
However, they went to the break just two ahead when a dubious penalty against Hayne for not being square at marker when looking to pin the Tigers to their own goal line helped the away side march downfield.
From there Blake Austin – a late call up for Liam Fulton who pulled out with a shoulder complaint – got his side on the scoreboard just two minutes before half-time. A good angled run close to the line wrong footed Pauli Pauli and he squeezed past David Gower to score.
Shortly after the resumption a poor Hayne pass with the Eels on the attack was cleaned up by Brooks, who raced the length of the field to score and put his side in front for the first time.
The Eels reclaimed the lead shortly after through a brilliant Hayne chip to the right wing, where an even more brilliant mark from winger Ken Sio on the half volley allowed him to beat his man one-on-one to score.
Sandow, who produced a number of great long kicks while looking for 40/20s, finally found one around the three-quarter mark but undid his good work with a wayward intercept pass to Richards. The big Tigers winger raced the length to score and then converted his own try, further stretching his lead at the top of the season point-scorers list and putting his side up 18-14.
Parramatta try-scoring ace Semi Radradra then reclaimed the outright lead atop the NRL season tally with his 10th four-pointer of the season. A Hayne cut-out pass put Sio away down the right hand touch line and with the Tigers still back-pedalling, a quick shift to the left and a great pass from Joe Paulo helped put Radradra over unmarked.
Although he improved the position, Sandow produced his third missed conversion of the afternoon.
With the scores locked at 18-all in the dying minutes, Eels co-captain Tim Mannah dropped the ball cold coming out of his own end to put the visitors in field goal range and on the last play of the set Brooks produced an cool-headed strike to put his side up by one.
With Parramatta's attempted short kick off not travelling 10 metres, the Tigers opted to put the long boot of Richards to use and he drove a penalty kick from half way between the posts to round off a thrilling 21-18 win.Wests Tigers 21
(Austin, Brooks, Richards tries; Richards 4 goals, Brooks field goal) defeated Parramatta Eels 18
(Hayne 2, Sio, Radradra tries; Sandow goal) at ANZ Stadium. Crowd: