It’s taken almost two years but the Eels have finally clicked into the form that saw them march deep into the 2007 finals series. The Parra fans are cheering and rightly so – their team is back in a very big way.
On the opposite side of the coin, however, are the Knights, a team than has free-fallen from their position entrenched in the top eight to now fighting for the finals in ninth spot. For both teams, just a month ago the outlook was so much different.
The Game Swung When... From the opening set of six tackles everything felt like it was going to be the Eels’ day.
Two penalties and some strong charges saw the home side almost get off to the perfect start, and even though the Knights scored first through a Steve Simpson try, it was obvious Inu, Hayne and company had brought their A-games. It was only going to be a matter of time, and within five minutes they’d tied the clash up at six points apiece. But the Eels went on to score 36 more, the Knights only two just three minutes later.
Who Was Hot... Fuifui Moimoi got the Eels off to a great start with a strong charge to open proceedings. And he wasn’t about to be stopped. In his 39 minutes (he was benched towards the end of the match – he played despite carrying a torn posterior cruciate ligament – an injury that usually requires at least a month’s rehabilitation – into the match) he destroyed the Knights.
He ran for 133 metres in 14 strong charges and broke a game-high eight tackles. And he even scored after Jarryd Hayne’s magic put him into the clear with just a short run to the try line. The Tongan express – with locks even Fabio would be proud of – just couldn’t be stopped.
Who Was Not... Poor Shannon McDonnell. His stats don’t read that badly – two errors with six runs for 56 metres – but he really had a shocking afternoon.
Early in the second half, with the Knights still a chance 12 points behind, they launched an attacking short-side raid and Wes Naiqama broke the line. Before reaching the final defender, Naiqama drew the fullback and propelled a beautiful spiralled, left-to-right pass to McDonnell’s chest. But the winger dropped it with the try line only a handful of metres away. The ball bounced forward and over the touchline – and the Knights’ hopes went with it, too.
Later in the match McDonnell also dropped a tough pass from Adam MacDougall, again the ball bouncing over the sideline.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed... Luke Burt’s 72nd-minute try sums up what the Eels can do – when they are on their game.
From a scrum, the ball was sent left into the hands of Krisnan Inu whose inconsistent efforts in 2009 have reflected the Eels’ season. Inu bumped off Knights’ five-eighth Ben Rogers before dancing past Isaac De Gois and MacDougall. He then ran at McDonnell to draw him in and provided Burt with an easy, unchallenged put-down. But it’s the manner in which he did this that was so amazing: rather than a simple through-the-hands, Inu leapt in front of the Newcastle winger and – like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – hooked it over the top to lay on the try for Burt... all but on a silver platter.
Refs Watch... Shayne Hayne and Matt Cecchin need not have worried about security when leaving the change rooms at the end of the match – the home team certainly got their fair share of the 50:50 decisions in this match.
While no decisions ultimately affected the outcome of the game, they certainly didn’t help Newcastle’s cause. And early in the match the Knights’ Chris Houston and Kurt Gidley were forced to confront Hayne about a play-the-ball decision that appeared debatable.
Later in the match, and probably more obvious, was their decision to penalise Naiqama for stealing the ball off Luke Burt. Burt was laying on the ground after claiming a high ball – it was later revealed he was down with an injury – but not claimed in a tackle by any means. Naiqama came in and secured Burt, stealing the ball in the process. Play should’ve continued – not been stopped by the penalty Hayne awarded.
Injuries... Evergreen Newcastle forward Steve Simpson had his time in the middle halved after playing just 42 minutes after suffering a cut to the face. He was off the field during the middle stages of the match, receiving treatment in the dressing sheds.
Also, Nathan Cayless received limited game time after tearing his calf muscle in the 18th minute – he will be monitored during the week but don’t be surprised to see him sitting on the sidelines.
Matt Hilder, Junior Sau and Burt also suffered knocks but soldiered on with their complaints.
NRL.com Best & Fairest... 3 points – Fuifui Moimoi (Eels): Another big performance from an ever-bigger personality; 2 points – Jarryd Hayne (Eels): Ran for 160 metres and set up two tries. Brilliant again; 1 point – Zeb Taia (Knights): Charged for a game-high 170 metres and made 28 tackles in a wholehearted performance.
Eels 40 (L Burt 2, K Inu, J Reddy, E Grothe, F Moimoi tries; Burt 8 goals) def Knights 8 (S Simpson try; K Gidley 2 goals) at Parramatta Stadium. Crowd: 17,669.