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Parramatta Eels 14 def South Sydney Rabbitohs 8

SOUTH Sydney ran on to ANZ Stadium looking to pick up from where they left off in their 40-point Round 1 demolition of the Roosters. They were hungry from the kick-off and bustled the opposition early, racing to a 6-0 lead after Chris Sandow capitalised on a John Sutton bomb that bamboozled Eels fullback Luke Burt. It sent the 20,871-strong home crowd into a rapture of anticipation.

But the Eels struck back immediately, with a soft four-pointer surrendered close to the red-and-greens’ line. Thereafter the half developed into a disjointed ebb and flow of raids and mistakes, with tit-for-tat penalties sending the sides to the sheds at 8-all.

The second stanza was a similarly dour affair before Luke Burt made one of the few long busts of the game to set up the decisive try.

There was much to like about both sides; they often played with flair and intensity but errors brought them undone. Still, there was enough there to suggest both will figure come semi-finals time.

The Game Swung When… Midway through a grinding second half Eels fullback Luke Burt jinked his way free of the clutches of the Souths’ ruckmen and dashed 45 metres up-field and into the Rabbitohs’ 40. Parra earned a repeat set when Rhys Wesser was forced to tap the ball over the dead-ball line. A minute later winger Joel Reddy received a perfect cut-out pass from Brett Finch, beat Jamie Simpson and somehow managed to ground the ball before being shunted into touch.

Burt’s conversion made it 14-8 in the 60th minute and the blue-and-golds had all the momentum.

Who Was Hot… Joel Reddy (11 runs for 99 metres) was a safe man in a crisis. Brett Finch directed play solidly, kicked 16 times and made 27 tackles. Feleti Mateo, despite heavy attention, still managed a crucial play when he shrugged off defenders to score. Thirty-year-old journeyman Joe Gulavao turned back the clock with a spirited showing (89 metres from 48 minutes).

Krisnan Inu had a ‘sleeper’ of a game but his stats were outstanding – 13 runs for 145 metres with three offloads and a line break.

For the Rabbitohs, Rhys Wesser stamped his class with 18 runs for 147 metres. And it was only some great defence that stopped John Sutton (two offloads, 107 metres) from breaking his shackles. Roy Asotasi was dangerous in every hit-up. And every Eel would have woken up gingerly last Saturday morning and remembered the name Eddy Pettybourne (29 tackles, 11 hit-ups in 52 minutes).

Who Was Not… Chris Sandow made 21 tackles – but he missed 10 too.

Jarryd Hayne looked lost most of the night – no offloads, no line breaks and three errors. But he did make three crucial tackles late in the game, including an ankle tap on Nathan Merritt when the Souths fullback threatened to accelerate into open space.

Even Inu threw in some mistakes, like dropping a ‘gift’ inside ball from Hayne under no pressure.

Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Ref Shayne Hayne blew his whistle to signal the start of the game. Souths put in a mid-depth, cross-field kick that zeroed in on Parra back-rower Nathan Hindmarsh. But ‘Hindy’ didn’t get so much as a touch to it, the ball bouncing through his shoulder-width-apart legs and continuing over the sideline to give the Rabbitohs crucial early possession. Hindmarsh’s wide eyes said it all; and Sandow’s try followed soon after.

Also, John Sutton has joined Storm five-eighth Greg Inglis as the best exponents of the towering spiral torpedo bomb. His fifth-minute hoist left Eels fullback Luke Burt without a clue.

Bad Boys… A few moments of argy bargy but nothing major. That said, the normally cool, calm and collected Chris Sandow blew his fuse after the full-time siren and was embroiled in a stoush with Brett Finch. Nothing became of it. Sandow also was seen giving plenty of lip to Nathan Cayless, Hindmarsh and Jarryd Hayne during the game. Some cheek. But this kid has the game to back it up.

Also, Nathan Merritt received a caution on the run for a late knees slide into Joel Reddy as the Eel scored the winning try. There have been eight-point tries for less. Given the off-season rules tweaks Merritt was subsequently cited by the match review committee and will miss their Round 3 clash with the Knights.

Refs watch… There’s no doubt that in season ’09 attacking kickers are a protected species – defenders who get close enough to so much as breath on their targets are paying the price.

It happened again here: a minute after Souths took an early 6-0 lead Brett Finch pumped a kick deep towards the Bunnies’ try line. Issac Luke shouldered Finch as he made contact with the pill – replays showed it was simultaneous. But Hayne blew a penalty, giving the Eels possession just metres out. Feleti Mateo took a flat pass on tackle one, swivelled and scored.

It’s of no comfort to Jason Taylor, but at least the refs are being consistent, judging by the calls made in other games. Best & Fairest… 3 points – Joel Reddy (Eels): Fielded bombs easily, great safe hands, positional play perfect, defended soundly. His finishing work in the crucial try was high quality; 2 points – Nathan Hindmarsh (Eels): The game has gotten faster with two refs so you’d think this would be a disadvantage to the older players. But not Hindy, he was in everything. His authority around the ruck, both in attack and defence, went a long way to nullifying the Rabbitohs’ threat; 1 point – Eddy Pettybourne (Rabbitohs) His involvement was high speed and high intensity. The 21-year-old has a great future.

Eels 14 (F Mateo, J Reddy tries; L Burt 3 goals) def Rabbitohs 8 (C Sandow try, I Luke 2 goals) at ANZ Stadium. Crowd: 20,871.

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