What a game of footy! A bumper crowd were superbly entertained by two teams desperate for the two points on a fast surface at the Sydney Football Stadium.
Ultimately it was the Eels who got home on the back of their star fullback's brilliance and strong contributions from their lesser lights. They've now won six on the trot and are hot to trot.
Wests Tigers won't have lost any fans and are arguably the other form team in the premiership. Had they played another 80 minutes the Tigers could have reversed the scores.
But overall, this was a sensational game, and impartial fans won't have cared who won. They just sat back and applauded. And gasped.
The Game Swung When… After a composed, even conservative first 15 minutes, tragedy for the Tigers when leading try-scorer Taniela Tuiaki went off injured with a fractured ankle. But from that moment the Tigers had all the running, running in two sensational tries. On the back of some Benji Marshall magic, it looked all Tigers.
But in the 28th minute Robbie Farah was pressured and kicked out on the full. Two minutes later the scores were level after Krisnan Inu put Luke Burt away, the winger scoring in the corner and being awarded an eight-point try.
Just on half-time Jarryd Hayne took the ball on the run and sent a long, low, driving punt into Tigers territory and his team was awarded a 40/20.
The Eels launched wave after wave of attack before the ball was spilled and Robert Lui tore up field, gang-tackled by five desperate Eels tacklers. And then everyone drew breath – half-time, 8-all.
After half-time Inu scored a fine try in which Hayne was highly involved, the fullback firing a fine spiral pass before Inu put some footwork on the rushing defence. Inu landed a booming conversion from the sideline and it was 14-8 Eels.
The Tigers hit back in the 58th minute when their backline kicked into gear. Lui passed to Marshall who passed to Farah who found Lawrence. The centre ran hard, took the tackle and flick-passed to John Morris who went over in the corner. Top try.
The 62nd minute: Hayne sprinted through the Tigers like a knife through butter. His pass found Kevin Kingston but the ball went to ground.
The 65th minute: what a try by the Eels. Feleti Mateo offloaded a flick pass in the tackle. The ball found Inu who offloaded in the tackle. The ball found Nathan Cayless who offoaded in the tackle. The ball went to Daniel Mortimer who ran into tacklers and offloaded with a flick pass in the tackle. The ball found Hayne who offloaded in the tackle before Jeff Robson scored adjacent the posts. Inu converted and it was 20-12.
The Tigers came back with some brilliant pace and footwork from Marshall, and passing by his men inside. The Tigers threw the ball to the other side of the field where Beau Ryan took the ball down the right, ran outside Hayne and planted the ball in the corner. Video ref Paul Simpkins looked at several replays … and … ruled … Try! Benefit of the Doubt. Marshall landed the conversion from the sideline and it was a two-point ball game. And anyone's.
But then Hayne – the undisputed heavyweight champion superstar of the game at the moment – chipped and chased and regathered and went over adjacent the posts, the Eels supporters rose as one and said to one another – Yes We Can!
Who Was Hot… Hayne was sensational. He looks like he's floating over the top of everyone else. The ball bounces for him. He is in command.
Inu made some fine runs, set up a try and beat nine tackles with the style that saw him a few years ago christened One of Them.
Joel Reddy ran hard and straight, Mortimer ran the show nicely for the Eels and fired some nice passes to his supports, while Nathan Cayless made three offloads and 32 tackles.
The Tigers were best served by Marshall who showed off his skills time and again with a series of kicks, flicks, passes, dummies and bouncy running that entertained the crowd like the Wiggles at a party for kindergarten kids. An amazing player. So good to watch.
Todd Payten (25 tackles) laid on some nice touches with the ball, while young half Lui looked pretty classy with the ball and made some telling tackles.
The Tigers were best served in defence by Farah (51 tackles), possibly the result of a plan by the Eels to run at the clever Tigers playmaker.
Who Was Not... Luke Burt came up with a horrible error in the 18th minute, carrying the ball in one hand five metres out and dropping the ball on the first tackle. On the next play Marshall came up with a brilliant play.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Plenty!
In the first seconds Tim Sheens showed he'd lost no sense of theatre when he had Marshall launch a rugby union-style kick-off that was almost taken by his chasers. Good option – no reason you have to robotically boot it long every time.
Tigers centre Chris Lawrence put Eels half Robson on his back in a fine tackle as the forwards looked on and nodded – good hit.
Marshall opened his bag of tricks for Blake Ayshford's try, flicking the ball to the winger around his back following a bouncing, dummying, brilliant run. He took the ball two off the ruck, dummied once, dummied twice, the second dummy fooling three Eels. Then just when you thought he was running out of space he sent a Michae Jordan-esque flick pass behind his back – just because he could – which put Ayshford in the corner.
Hayne was relatively quiet for the first 50 minutes, setting up one try and landing a fine 40/20. Then in the 53rd minute he took a bomb and stepped three Eels and haired off on a flying run down into the Eels’ 20. Somehow he was tackled by prop Bryce Gibbs, who must have been coming off the bench. Or taking things easy.
You've read his other efforts.
And just for good measure he landed a second 40/20.
Bad Boys… Bryce Gibbs was put on report for knees in the back of Luke Burt when the winger went over to score. He was charged with a Grade 2 offence and will miss two weeks with an early guilty plea.
Refs Watch… In a high-energy, high-stakes, highly frenetic game of rugby league, Tony Archer and Jarred Maxwell had fine games – with a couple of quibbles.
Great decision by Archer to penalise the Tigers for being in front of kicker Marshall.
After an amazing effort by Ryan to touch down in the right-hand corner, video referee Paul Simpkins looked at maybe seven replays and adjudicated Try – Benefit of the Doubt. Great call.
As Burt scored in the left-hand corner, Gibbs put his knees into Burt's lower back. No arguments with the decision for the 8-point try.
In the 32nd minute Marshall took a quick tap and sprinted up the middle of the park. Corey Payne backed up and took a pass before offloading to Morris who tore up field. But Archer called forward pass. But it was a tough call.
And in the 73rd minute, as Gus Gould might say: no, no, no, no, no, no. Archer ruled a forward pass on a ball Marshall sent floating over his opponents' heads. But it began backwards. Maybe floated forward. But so did Benji. And if we do our physics lessons about throwing an apple backwards out of a car doing 80km, you'll say it was flat-out wrong.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Jarryd Hayne (Eels): Did everything; 2 points – Benji Marshall (Wests Tigers): Did everything else; 1 point – Krisnan Inu (Eels): Ran with purpose and looked very dangerous down the right. Also kicked five from five.
Eels 26 (L Burt, K Inu, J Robson, J Hayne tries; K Inu 5 goals) def Wests Tigers 18 (B Ryan 2, B Ayshford, J Morris tries; B Marshall goal) at Sydney Football Stadium. Crowd: 34,272.