THIS game has to rate as one of the biggest upsets of the year. Last weekend the Knights looked untouchable, winning nine straight games at their home ground, EnergyAustralia Stadium. Not even the Parramatta faithful thought it would be the Eels to break that winning streak.
But coach Daniel Anderson and his crew of rookies and reserve graders believed. Players rugby league fans had barely heard of, like Jonathon Wright and Jeff Robson, were instrumental in dismantling the momentum the Knights were enjoying up until Sunday afternoon.
At no point did the home team look dominant. Clearly still dining out on the Bulldogs’ victory, the Knights just did not turn up with the same enthusiasm and determination that has defined them all year. No-one expected the Eels to take advantage, but any team that carries a player like Nathan Hindmarsh will always find the extra effort.
The Game Swung When… The momentum swung throughout the game like a pendulum, and it took just one play to make it go back the other way. As the Knights looked to break the deadlock in the 61st minute, it took one extra effort to push the game back in the favour of the Eels.
The moment came when replacement hooker George Ndaira sliced through the Eels’ line. He found Zeb Taia outside him who was sprinting away with Kurt Gidley looming on his inside. But the chase from Parramatta was exemplary, giving fullback Jarryd Hayne the freedom to back off and kill the play. However, Taia was able to get the offload to Gidley, who looked certain to streak away for possibly the match-winning try. Enter Hindmarsh – the tireless defender pulled Gidley down from behind and forced the mistake. It pushed the momentum back in the favour of the Eels, who scored the next eight points.
Afterwards, both coaches called for Hindmarsh’s inclusion in the NSW Origin side for Game Two, such was the immensity of that play.
Who Was Hot… Unsung halves Daniel Mortimer and Jeff Robson played their best game yet and were instrumental in each of the Eels’ three tries. Mortimer set up Parramatta’s first try for Joel Reddy, and pulled off a classy and risky play for Fuifui Moimoi to score.
Robson scored himself when a kick rebounded off the legs of Chris Houston and back into his hands. No question their kicking games were much improved from last week’s poor performance against the Sharks. The combined kicking metres from the halves last week was just 451 metres, this week it was 590 metres – and it greatly improved Parramatta’s go-forward.
It was a similar story in the forwards, with Nathan Cayless making 41 metres more than last week, and Hindmarsh 62 extra metres.
For the Knights Jarrod Mullen was outstanding once again, setting up two tries and scoring the final one himself, and even though he lost halves partner Scott Dureau in the first half, he kept the Knights’ attack moving.
Who was not… The Eels’ forwards have been criticised all year, but this week they totally dominated the opposition. Coach Brian Smith shifted his pack around, with Houston starting at lock after playing most of the year at prop, and cult figure Danny Wicks starting the game rather than coming off the bench as an impact player.
Overall, the changes failed, with the Knights’ pack outplayed by the Eels. Steve Simpson was ruled out through injury, which did not help Newcastle, but without the usual metres from the forwards their backs failed to find repeated good space.
Fill-in winger Keith Lulia was guilty of too many mistakes with three errors for the match, all at crucial points of the game.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… He is just 20 years old, but Mortimer showed the guts and class of a 30-year-old, when he set up Moimoi for what was ultimately the match-winning try. After taking a terrible pass, Mortimer saw space behind the line and grubbered, regathered and threw a great pass for Moimoi to score under the posts. It signalled Mortimer’s graduation from Toyota Cup to the big time of the NRL.
Injuries… Halfback Scott Dureau left the field late in the first half after injuring his groin when trying to kick. It is believed the Knights could be without him for up to six weeks.
Refs Watch… A controversial penalty to the Eels, where Marvin Karawana appeared to take out Kevin Kingston, gave the Eels their two-point advantage but replays showed it was justified.
Late in the game the referees missed a knock-on by Hayne when fielding a bomb that would have given the Knights good field position with just a couple of minutes to go.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Daniel Mortimer (Eels): Set up two of the Eels’ tries, including a confident play for the final try; 2 points – Nathan Hindmarsh (Eels); Pulled off the play of the game in defence and was solid in attack. A classic Hindmarsh performance; 1 point – Eric Grothe (Eels): The big winner was back to his best, making two line breaks and 171 metres.
Eels 20 (F Moimoi, J Reddy, J Robson tries; L Burt 4 goals) def Knights 18 (K Lulia, J Mullen, J Sau tries; K Gidley 2, G Ndaira goals) at EnergyAustralia Stadium. Crowd: 18,085.