The Eels’ incredible late premiership momentum surge shows no signs of waning, with the blue-and-golds easily accounting for a brave but popgun-in-attack Titans unit to win their eighth game from their past nine and book a mouth-watering sudden-death grand final qualifier with the Bulldogs.
The game had an explosive opening, with Titans back-rower Ashley Harrison assisted from the field with just 30 seconds on the clock after being knocked senseless in a sickening head clash with Eels lock Todd Lowrie.
Unperturbed, the visitors started brightly and pressured the Eels throughout a bristling opening 20 minutes, nudging to an early 2-0 lead when the Eels’ defence was pinged for being offside on their tryline. Their chances appeared boosted when Eels five-eighth Daniel Mortimer was forced from the field after just 10 minutes, with a serious hip flexor injury following a borderline late challenge from Sam Tagataese after hoisting a clearing kick.
Things appeared to be running smoothly for John Cartwright’s men, before skipper Scott Prince booted a towering bomb way over the deadball line in the 20th minute. Then the game’s complexion changed. From the 20-metre restart, Todd Lowrie found space, with the movement ending with Luke Burt’s chip kick hemming the opposition in their in-goal. Then Feleti Mateo, on for the injured Mortimer, wrong-footed and left the normally reliable Anthony Laffranchi grasping at air, strolling over one off the ruck to give the Eels a 6-2 lead.
The Titans remained resolute before a dropped ball and a penalty for ill-discipline at the ruck gifted the Eels another prime scoring opportunity – which they gladly accepted. Under-rated halfback Jeff Robson weighted a perfect chip-bomb across field, with back-rower Ben Smith outleaping Mat Rogers for a 12-2 scoreline after 36 minutes.
That looked to be the first half action done and dusted – before Jarryd Hayne snapped a last-second field goal to extend their half-time lead to 11 points.
The Titans came out firing after the resumption and were clearly the better side for the opening 20 minutes of the second stanza. They pumped the Eels’ line, gained numerous repeat sets and were unlucky when prop Matt White grassed the ball when over the white stripe in the 47th minute.
But then the Eels changed gears and sped away with the contest.
The Game Swung When… The Titans couldn’t get on the scoreboard early in the second half, despite massive possession. They had four repeat sets before White hit the line, pivoted and spun around to plant the ball… and lost it.
They kept up the pressure but the Eels’defence held. Then prop Fuifui Moimoi split the game open, offloading and sending Luke Burt on a 40-metre sideline run. The winger swerved infield, drew fullback William Zillman and passed to the unmarked Kevin Kingston who crossed under the posts to make it 19-2 in the 60th minute. And game – and season – over for the Titans.
It could also be argued Prince’s conservative decision to take the two points in just the sixth minute, when the Titans were pressing the Eels’ line, set the tone for the defeat. They were always going to need to score a lot of points to be competitive in this one – especially given they’d leaked more than 70 themselves the previous fortnight.
Who Was Hot… What more can you say about Jarryd Hayne? Although the Titans hustled and bustled him, and did a fair job containing him, he still managed several moments of brilliance, including a Had-To-Be-Seen-To-Be-Believed run that was probably more dazzling than his burst for a try against the Dragons the previous week.
Hayne ran for a game-high 165 metres and had the crowd on their feet at every touch.
Fuifui Moimoi charged without thoughts of self-preservation, running for 118 metres from 16 hit-ups in just 44 minutes and showing good ball skills to initiate Kingston’s try.
Nathan Hindmarsh powered through the defensive work with a game-high 49 tackles.
Skipper Nathan Cayless made 17 hit-ups for 160 metres in 57 minutes.
Usual battering ram winger Eric Grothe surprised many when he offloaded the ball four times.
And Johnathan Wright showed he’s capable of more than just keeping warm injured Krisnan Inu’s centre position with a rousing display; Wright showed blistering speed off a near-standing start late in the game to puncture the Titans and score the Eels’ final try in the 67th minute.
For the Titans, Luke Bailey tried hard (116 metres, 35 tackles), while co-captain Scott Prince tried to spark his side at every opportunity.
Who Was Not… No Titan could be singled out for a poor performance. They all gave their all. But the Eels’ were simply too good.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Jarryd Hayne was again the star, his probing runs, skips and darts leaving Titans fans biting their fingernails throughout. His shining moment (among plenty) came when he replicated – no, even bettered – his one-against-the-world run from last week that resulted in a try against the Dragons. It came in the 24th minute when, on the last tackle, he beat a dozen defenders, either point blank or with tackle-busting force, in a sublime run that swept from the left of the field to the right. It looked for all money the movement would end deservedly in a try but alas his deft right-hand flick offload to Joel Reddy went to ground. It surely would have been a try for all time.
Bad Boys… Sam Tagataese’s head-burrow into Daniel Mortimer appeared, on review, a little late. It certainly left coach Daniel Anderson fuming and in no doubt of its illegality.
The NRL match review committee agreed; the Titans centre was charged with making dangerous contact but will escape suspension with an early guilty plea.
Injuries… Mortimer received pain-killing injections into his hip flexor in an attempt to get back on the field but the injury didn’t respond. He’ll be monitored during the week.
Johnathan Wright remains in doubt for next week’s grand final qualifier with the Bulldogs after injuring ankle ligaments late in the clash.
Refs Watch… Just an average performance from Shayne Hayne and Jared Maxwell The penalty count was 7-4 in favour of the Eels, although crucial calls going the way of the home side all night. There didn’t appear to be a lot of consistency and some of the penalties were pedantic when placed in the context of the more open-flow flow finals games from last week.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Jarryd Hayne (Eels): When a player of his calibre gets as involved as he does throughout 80 minutes, it can’t help but mess with the minds of the opposition. The greatest talent the game has seen in a long time. Question is, how long can he keep it going?; 2 points – Fuifui Moimoi (Eels): Bone-jarring charges and knee-rattling defence; 1 point – Nathan Hindmarsh (Eels): A defensive rock.
Eels 27 (K Kingston, F Mateo, B Smith, J Wright tries; L Burt 5 goals; J Hayne field goal) def Titans 2 (S Prince goal) at Sydney Football Stadium. Crowd: 28,524.