Injury scuppers Eels' goalkicking solution
If there has been any criticism of Parramatta fullback Jarryd Hayne in recent years, it's that he tries to do too much.
That's obviously no matter of concern for new coach Brad Arthur, who handed the mercurial fullback the vexed job of Eels goalkicker ahead of the Round 3 grudge match against Manly at Brookvale on Sunday afternoon.
When the team took to the field for the pre-match warm-up Hayne spent some time doing his regular exercises with teammates before spending the rest of the session diligently practising his goalkicking.
From 20 metres out, just to the left of the posts. Bang. Straight over.
From 20 metres out, just to the right of the posts. Bang. Straight over.
Again, from further to the left... Bang, straight over. And again from further to the right... same result.
His final kick of the session was taken from almost in front of the media box, directly in front of reporters, roughly 20 out and 10 or 15 in from the right touch line. Whoosh... a clean swing of the boot and the ball scythed its way towards the inside of the right-hand upright before curling in slightly to sail virtually over the black dot.
Sure it's only a warm up, rather than the match-on-the-line, high-pressure conversion that young Penrith fullback Matt Moylan nailed on Saturday to win a match against the Bulldogs. But the early signs were good after the struggles to that point of first choice kicker Corey Norman (2/6 in total against the Warriors and Roosters).
However tragedy struck in the first half when Hayne looked to suffer an ankle injury that repeatedly required attention and hampered him for the rest of the game, as well as putting paid to his short term goal kicking ambitions.
"I was meant to be the kicker but when I sprained it in that first half I could barely run on it, so I was no chance kicking," Hayne told reporters after the game.
There was a danger that it wouldn't matter as the Eels repeatedly failed to convert attacking chances in a first half of missed opportunities that finished with the side down 10-nil.
However it soon became a lot more significant as the Eels came out firing after the break, scoring in the right corner, then the left corner, then again around halfway between the posts and the left touch line.
Talented utility Joe Paulo, who had the promising figures to date of two goals from three attempts, including one sideline conversion, all in the Round 1 win over the Warriors, was asked to take the shots and missed all three.
A stunning team try finished off by Nathan Peats next to the posts in the 73rd minute was finally converted by Paulo, and with the side up 18-16 with just over a minute to go it seemed they may have dodged a bullet.
But a final minute try to Steve Matai, converted by Jamie Lyon, consigned the Eels to a 22-18 loss in a game where each side scored four tries and goal kicking proved the difference on the scoreboard.
Meanwhile the clamouring from some segments of the fanbase for the return of maligned halfback Chris Sandow slowly grows louder.
Sandow has starred in Wentworthville's three-and-none start to the season, being a dominant force from half back and kicking 5/7, 6/8 and 3/3 for a season return to date of 14 goals from 18 attempts – at a respectable 78%. It's a far cry from the 5/13 (38%) that Paulo and Norman have combined for thus far.
It would certainly be a harsh call on promising playmaker Luke Kelly, who played brilliantly in the second half of the Round 1 victory and had plenty of great touches, including general play and attacking kicks, in the second half comeback against Manly.
But one thing is for certain – whether it's Hayne, Norman, Paulo, Sandow or Fuifui Moimoi, the Eels need to find a goalkicker and they need to find one soon.
With how close games seem to be running in 2014 (six from seven matches so far in Round 3 were up for grabs into the final minute, with three matches won by the side that was trailing after 78 minutes) goalkicking is likely to be the difference in plenty of games this season. When you've struggled for wins as badly as the Eels have in recent times you need to be turning four points into six at every opportunity.