Parramatta fans continue to live the NRL dream after the Eels stunned the minor premier Dragons with a 50-point turnaround in baking heat to move on in the finals series – and consign the 2008 premiers the Sea Eagles to the 2009 scrapheap.
Just a week after losing 37-0 on the same turf at WIN Jubilee Stadium the Eels defended like champions and then capitalised on some Luke Burt and Jarryd Hayne magic to kill off any sniff of a St George Illawarra fightback.
It is the second year running where the eighth-placed side has taken down the minor premiers on the first Sunday of the finals. It sends the Dragons on a sudden-death trip to Brisbane, while the Eels will now meet the Gold Coast Titans in Sydney.
Not even a sea of red and white among the 18,000 supporters who crammed in at Kogarah could intimidate the Eels and when Hayne crossed for one of the competition’s best solo finals tries in the dying minutes, the only sounds were the marching of many feet piling out of the gates in droves.
Wayne Bennett managed to win his last competition after the Broncos fell in Week One of the finals in 2006 – but if the Dragons’ attack can’t find the points in the big games coming up, the chances of Bennett adding to his tally this year are slim.
The Game Swung When… The Dragons couldn’t get across the line in the opening 20 minutes of the match. St George Illawarra dominated possession and field position… but all they had to show for it was a lousy Jamie Soward penalty goal kicked after 16 minutes.
When the Eels scored at the 26-minute mark in one of their first forays into attack, and then again five minutes later, the writing was on the wall.
The Dragons did claw back to 12-8 down at the break but with about a quarter of the match to go one pass effectively decided the result. Jamie Soward noticed Eels winger Eric Grothe had found himself in ‘no man’s land’ defending as the Dragons shifted the ball left and tried to beat him with a bullet cut-out pass – but Grothe stuck an arm out and plucked the Steeden from the air before running 85 metres to score and extend the lead to 18-8.
Had the pass found its way to Brett Morris the Dragons may have levelled proceedings. But it did not and the Eels surged.
The same move left did produce a try inside the final 10 minutes to reduce the lead to six but a huge Luke Burt field goal with under four minutes on the clock sealed the win, before Hayne’s awesome late try added insult to injury.
Who Was Hot… Jarryd Hayne’s stats read 208 metres, one try, one try assist, one offload, three line breaks and 17 tackle breaks… yep 17! Is it any wonder he was crowned the game’s best player during the week?
Fuifui Moimoi kept charging hard with momentum all day and Nathan Hindmarsh showed why he was sorely missed the week earlier with 50 tackles.
Who Was Not… Dragons halves Ben Hornby and Jamie Soward had quiet games. Hornby had been sick earlier in the week and was obviously lacking spark, while Soward’s kicking game was a tad off its usual standards.
Dean Young and Ben Creagh were also off defensively, missing six tackles each. Young crucially missed Mortimer, paving a clear passage for the youngster’s try, and was also part of the debris left behind by Hayne when he scored.
Eels bench man Feleti Mateo gets a mention here also after being put on for just nine minutes before deciding it was a good idea to try to throw an offload while falling inside his own 20 with the Dragons pushing for a comeback… coach Daniel Anderson immediately hooked him.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Without doubt Hayne’s 78th-minute try was the play of the day and easily the play of the finals so far. The dynamic Eels fullback beat seven Dragons from basically a standing start in a probing, jinking, surging run to the line which stunned just about everyone… he even had referee Jared Maxwell nearly tripping over himself to be in position to award the four-pointer.
Hayne showed exactly why he took out the Dally M Medal this season; with the ability to bring magic like that to the table, the Eels are a real chance of going all the way.
Bad Boys… Ben Smith was penalised for an early high shot on Darius Boyd but wasn’t charged by the match review committee.
Injuries… Dragons centre Matt Cooper still has a few niggles and will be monitored but most of the players seemed to come through okay.
Refs Watch… Jared Maxwell and Matt Cecchin were pretty strong as the weekend’s least experienced finals combo and showed they would not be intimidated, penalising dissent stiffly and swiftly.
There may have been cause for Maxwell to go to the video referee on an early Dragons’ chance, with replays being inconclusive as to whether a cross-kick was indeed lost forward by the Dragons as he had ruled… but otherwise the pair were solid.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Jarryd Hayne (Eels): Was Parramatta’s Mr Do-It-All with some great runs, good kicking and one of best finals tries of all time; 2 points – Nathan Hindmarsh (Eels): Controlled the Dragons with great defence, making 50 tackles… and still turned up in attack;
1 point – Fuifui Moimoi (Eels): Had his team rolling forward with some devastating charges.
Eels 25 (L Burt, D Mortimer, E Grothe, J Hayne tries; L Burt 4 goals, field goal) def Dragons 12 (D Hunt, B Morris tries; Jamie Soward 2 goals) at WIN Jubilee Stadium. Crowd: 18,174.