Bulldogs outmuscle scrappy Eels
A knee injury to Eels fullback Corey Norman in a poor loss to Canterbury at ANZ Stadium has added injury to insult after Parramatta were outplayed and outmuscled 28-4 in front of 17,082 very cold fans.
A scrappy 6-4 first half scoreline was blown apart in the second as Frank Pritchard's double and tries to Josh Jackson, Brett Morris and Curtis Rona put a serious dent in Parramatta's rapidly fading finals hopes.
With in-form utility Moses Mbye rested, first-string halves Josh Reynolds and Trent Hodkinson enjoyed the space created by the big Bulldogs pack but an avalanche of errors, missed tackles and missed opportunities could well have seen the Eels lose by a much larger margin and will give coach Des Hasler plenty to talk about during the video review of the game.
The Eels now face a serious headache with the possibility Norman – their best player in 2015 – could be ruled out for much of the remainder of the year, pending scans to a left knee complaint that saw him leave the field after 60 minutes.
Origin back-rower Josh Jackson had an outstanding game, proving hard to tackle and scoring a try, while fellow Blue Brett Morris ran amok, earning a try of his own and racking up 264 metres.
A bruising but scrappy first half saw the Eels enjoy the lion's share of possession with 60 per cent of the ball in the first 40 minutes as well as four extra sets, but after a sloppy display from both teams, would have considered themselves lucky to only be down 6-4 at the break.
A 20-minute feeling out period where neither side was able to gain the ascendency or gain their opportunities followed an early no-try call against Bulldogs skipper James Graham, who was offside from a kick that bounced off several sets of legs before he ended up diving over with it.
The Dogs eventually put the first points in the 21st minute somewhat against the run of play when a clean break in the midfield from Trent Hodkinson put big back-rower Pritchard away.
The Eels' woes with the ball were highlighted by two passes out the back from five-eighth Luke Kelly that went behind everyone in the line and forced players to return to retrieve it, as well as a last-tackle kick out on the full, and one amateurish last-tackle option that saw the ball passed through several sets of hands before a Norman cutout intended for winger Semi Radradra sailed into touch with the winger already racing downfield looking for a kick that never came.
Despite this the Bulldogs repeatedly let them off the hook; a blatant Josh Reynolds forward pass immediately after an Eels error and a Sam Kasiano drop as the side attacked the line among the costly errors that would have had coach Des Hasler giving his troops a razzing during the break.
The second half started poorly for the Eels; with Dogs winger Sam Perrett continuing to defuse every kick that came near him despite the attention of Radradra, Josh Jackson ran through some lazy defence near the Eels line and though tackled the Dogs extended their lead shortly after when a perfect Reynolds chip was well-marked by a leaping Pritchard for his double.
It quickly became 18-4 when Josh Jackson again ran straight through some lazy defence, splitting Tepai Moeroa and Darcy Lussick to score.
Norman had to be taken off with a knee injury a few minutes later and it left the Eels defence in disarray and allowed Dogs fullback Brett Morris to sprint through a ragged line and away for a 60 metre try.
Things looked like getting really ugly for the Eels but it was a small mercy that the Dogs bombed one try when Tim Lafai failed to pass after Reynolds made a clean break, then a clean break from Brett Morris found his brother in support but Josh spilled the pill with the line wide open.
Impressive youngster Shaun Lane was held back until the three-quarter mark but his injection caused further headaches for a rattled Eels side with a series of deft offloads, and right as it looked like the Eels were set to get through to fulltime without further damage to their differential or playing roster, Dogs winger Curtis Rona scored an 80th-minute four-pointer to rejoin Radradra atop the season try-scoring tally with his 17th of the season.
The win helped establish the Bulldogs in the top eight.
Canterbury Bulldogs 28 (Pritchard 2, Jackson, B Morris, Rona tries; Hodkinson 4 goals) defeated Parramatta Eels 4 (Radradra try) at ANZ Stadium. Crowd: 17,082. Half time: Bulldogs 6-4. On report: David Gower.