Eels smash Manly in Round 1
Parramatta have produced the perfect start to the post Jarryd Hayne era, conjuring up a stunning second half performance at home to blow an underwhelming Manly side off the park 42-12.
In an explosive encounter that was just as fiery as everyone expected, the Eels forwards produced the big hits and completely dominated the middle third of the park.
Adding injury to insult, Manly lost centre Clint Gutherson to a suspected ACL injury just 15 minutes in, then in-demand five-eighth Kieran Foran to a suspected hamstring injury 15 minutes before the finish.
While Hayne was present to address the crowd at half-time, the Eels had no trouble sparking into life without their former star fullback. Blockbusting winger Semi Radradra produced a hat-trick – as he had at the same ground in Round 1 last year against the Warriors – livewire half Chris Sandow a double, Wil Hopoate was solid and the new faces in the backline showed they will add plenty of energy to Brad Arthur's side in 2015.
The match got off to the fiery start everyone expected; ex-Manly stalwart Anthony Watmough took a hit-up in the first set and copped a facial massage from Matt Ballin for his troubles; Eels hitters Tepai Moeroa, Darcy Lussick and Junior Paulo produced some brutal hits, but the Eels were their own worst enemy in terms of discipline.
The Eels overcame a 66 per cent first completion rate and a 60-40 weight of possession against them to take a 16-12 lead into half time, and Eels coach Brad Arthur was far from impressed by his team's ball control despite the result.
"I'm pleased with our application to our defence and our intent with our defence. We were nice and resilient on our try line but I'm very disappointed in our lack of respect for the football and ball control. It wasn't good enough and something we need to fix up straight away," Arthur said after the game.
On their rare attacking opportunities down Manly's end they made it count as the Sea Eagles new-look backline proved suspect to sweeping lateral shifts with new centre Gutherson – in for injured Steve Matai – taken off with a knee injury after 15 minutes and Tom Symonds forced to substitute in the three quarter line.
Prodigious winger Radradra bagged a first half double, the first in just the seventh minute after a monstrous shot from Lussick dislodged the ball from Brenton Lawrence and new centre Brad Takairangi produced a quality in-and-away on Jamie Lyon.
Manly were unlucky not to level up when a searing long-range cut-out from Foran put Cheyse Blair over in the corner but the pass was ruled forward.
Hopoate, making a solid fist of his first outing in the blue and gold No.1 jersey, finished off a right-side movement set up by Chris Sandow when he shaped to pass and got between the defenders to make it 10-0 after 16 minutes.
Foran made his mark shortly after, producing a sublime inside ball to Brett Stewart to get the score back to 10-6 and with a series of goal-line drop outs blowing Manly's possession stats out to 65 per cent at one point, the Eels finally crumbled in the face of a classic left-side shift that went from Foran to Stewart to Blair as the Sea Eagles hit the lead.
With Manly finally looking like righting the ship the Eels found another level, and off the back of a dangerous scoot from bench hooker Isaac De Gois, fresh on the field, launched a final raid at the Manly line. Norman, heavily involved throughout the set, produced a brilliant tap-on offload to Takaraingi who was able to set Radradra up for his second of the half and a 16-12 lead at the break.
Manly started the second half in precisely the opposite manner they would have hoped; James Hasson lifted his knee into Watmough off the first hit up handing the Eels a free two points in front of the posts.
Parramatta stretched their lead to 24-12 shortly after when a brilliant long-range move saw Beau Champion into space down the right, flicking it to Reece Robinson whose chip back infield sat in the in-goal for Sandow.
Norman, having a standout game as the man seemingly under most pressure from Parramatta's ongoing attempts to sign Foran, then produced a bullet cut-out pass to send Radradra over for his third of the night. Robinson produced a perfect sideline kick to stretch Parramatta's lead to 18 with 25 minutes to go.
Parramatta then turned on the razzle-dazzle through a mid-field chip and chase from Sandow. The fit-looking No.7 got the perfect bounce, snatched the ball one-handed and passed to his left where Norman put Takairangi over for his first try and blue and gold.
Foran hobbled off 15 minutes from time and straight after that Robinson produced some brilliant footwork out of dummy half, evading several defenders before passing to Lussick who handed it on to Sandow, who ducked past the last line of the defence to bag his double.
The Eels were happy to hold on to a 42-12 win that sees them draw level with the impressive Rabbitohs with a plus 30 differential one game into the season.
Afterwards, Manly coach Geoff Toovey said it had been mostly "a few silly mistakes" by his side that had cost them.
"It's a hard way to start the year. We've had a fantastic off season I thought. At half time I thought we were the better side, we controlled the ball a lot better than they did, a couple of very basic mistakes and a couple of decisions that went against us at the back of the match."
Parramatta Eels 42 (Radradra 3, Sandow 2, Hopoate, Takairangi tries; Robinson 6 goals) def Manly Sea Eagles 12 (Stewart, Blair tries; Lyon 2 goals) at Pirtek Stadium. Crowd: 18,718. On report: Junior Paulo, James Hasson. Half time score: Parramatta 16-12.