Magic Eels keep finals hopes alive
On paper one of the matches of the season, the Parramatta-Manly grudge match truly lived up to its billing in a spirited, spiteful and hugely entertaining affair marked by individual and team brilliance from both sides, before the Eels finished come-from-behind 22-12 victors.
Mannah gushes at Parra footy 'brand'
Eels out to build on second half showing
'Complacent' Manly let it slip
WATCH: Radradra runs 90 metres to score
WATCH: Full match highlights
WATCH: Eels press conference
WATCH: Sea Eagles press conference
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Relive our live match commentary
In front of a pulsating and hugely partisan near-capacity crowd of 17,706, the Eels failed to capitalise on several golden opportunities in the first half in the face of some outstanding Manly defence, the away side doing enough to go to the break up 12-0.
But the Eels caught fire in the second half, being controversially denied an early try and shrugging off that disappointment to blow the game wide open with a 10 minute, three-try blitz.
The win kept the Eels' finals hopes well and truly alive, while Manly could finish the round in second, losing their grip on the minor premiership.
The game was characterised by some now-customary brilliance from Eels fullback Jarryd Hayne, yet another 40/20 from enigmatic halfback Chris Sandow, who had a good all-round game, Isaac De Gois's best game in blue and gold and one of the loudest crowds seen at Parramatta since 2009.
The Eels started the first half poorly, conceding a penalty in their first defensive set, and the returning Steve Matai immediately showed what Manly had missed on their left edge.
Cashing in on a set in good field position, in-form fullback Brett Stewart got a good offload away to put Matai in space and the centre made no mistake, forcing opposing winger Vai Toutai to commit before sending his outside man in Jorge Taufua on a free run to the line.
A second penalty shortly after handed Manly another piggy-back into Eels territory, but despite forcing a repeat set they weren't able to press their advantage as Jamie Buhrer spilled the ball in an attempt to repeat their left-edge raid.
The Eels were able to create some pressure of their own, spending some time in Manly's end and forcing a goal-line dropout themselves but never seriously looked like troubling Manly's slick sliding defence.
Having absorbed a huge amount of pressure as the Eels dominated field position through the middle part of the half, Manly turned defence into attack at the next opportunity.
That came when the home side spilled a Manly bomb shortly after a Joe Paulo forward pass, handing the visitors a full set at the Eels' line.
In almost a mirror image of their opening try, Manly spread it to the right through Foran then Lyon for Hiku to make his 17th try of the season look incredibly easy as he got on the outside of his opposite man in Semi Radradra.
The only further points in the half came from a Lyon penalty goal right before the break to make it a 12-0 lead after 40 minutes.
The Eels badly needed to be the first to score in the second half and seemed to start in perfect fashion when Sandow's dummy and run got him between Foran and Buhrer to score. Sent upstairs as a try but checking for obstruction, players from both sides – not to mention the crowd – were left baffled when the video referee somehow found a reason to overturn the try despite no defenders being impeded, denying the Eels the hit-back they needed.
It mattered little shortly after though and only seemed to fire the Eels up when Hayne – who had repeatedly threatened to break the game open in the first half – made a long-range run to put Manly on the back foot and allow Ken Edwards to barge over from the next play. Sandow's sideline conversion got the deficit back down to six points.
It looked like normal service was about to be resumed when a poor finish to an Eels set enabled Foran to force a dropout before a special piece of play from Parramatta try-scoring ace Radradra.
Latching onto a Foran cross-field kick, Radradra struggled through two defenders and somehow managed to regain his footing before finding no-one in front of him. Engaging the afterburners, Radradra streaked 90 metres despite a concerted chase from Taufua to rapturous cheers from the crowd to make the scores level 10 minutes into the half. It was also his 19th try of 2014, putting him one clear of his club captain on the season try-scoring tally.
From one individual piece of magic to another, Chris Sandow decided to test out the new 40/20 interpretation with his sixth such kick of the season.
With the Eels rushing for a quick restart the refs continually called "wait for the whistle, wait for the whistle," and the first test of the new rule certainly provided little room for ambiguity without costing the Eels their momentum.
It paid dividends in that set when Hopoate burst onto a Sandow ball at the line, with the refs checking the grounding – the only result of which was a caution to Taufua for kicking out at the ball as the former Sea Eagle went to ground it, Sandow's conversion making it 18-12.
Having scored three tries in just over 10 minutes, the suddenly red-hot Eels continued to press their advantage with a series of big sets in attack, Hayne forcing a drop out with a well-placed chip and Hopoate almost getting a result from a grubber ahead after being put into space by Hayne.
Some remarkable work from Isaac De Gois to toe ahead a Corey Norman grubber then tackle Brett Stewart at the line led to a goal line drop-out but the next set came undone when a strong Hayne surge finished in the fullback losing the ball in the tackle.
When Hayne lost his temper at the officials – not for the first time in the match – they lost patience with the Eels captain and penalised him for backchat.
With pressure mounting, and tempers flaring from both sides, the clock started to become a factor for the visitors. Whether it was the crowd, the occasion or just one of those things, the key moment came about six minutes from time when Stewart spilled an Eels bomb to hand the home side a golden opportunity to blow the game open.
They cashed in on the scrum play, spreading it right for a dangerous Hayne run to put the defence in two minds, his pass to Hopoate quickly tapped on for Toutai to score in the corner and leaving the Eels up by 10 with five minutes to play.
A desperate Manly were not able to make any further inroads into what was a great second half defensive effort from Parramatta, who moved to seventh place on the ladder with 28 competition points and potentially one more win away from a finals berth, while Manly remain on 34 points and with a top-two finish not yet guaranteed.
Eels back-rower Joe Paulo's 100th NRL game was rewarded with a victory while star Manly halfback Daly Cherry-Evans finished his 100th NRL appearance in disappointment.
Jason King was placed on report for a 42nd minute high tackle on Tepai Moeroa, and Ben Smith for a 69th-minute crusher tackle on James Hasson.
Parramatta Eels 22 (Edwards, Radradra, Hopoate, Toutai tries; Sandow 3 goals) defeated Manly Sea Eagles 12 (Taufua, Hiku tries; Lyon 2 goals) at Pirtek Stadium. Crowd:17,706.