Eels v Sharks: Five key points
A thrilling and topsy-turvy game at Pirtek Stadium on Saturday was finally won by Cronulla, who stole it back late after it looked like the Eels had come from behind to pull off an unlikely win. Here are five talking points from the Sharks' 35-28 win.
Holmes owns the big moments
Sharks winger Valentine Holmes is building quite the resume of clutch plays in what is still a very young career.
One of the youngest players on the field simply owned the final 10 minutes of the game – pretty much from the time his opposite flanker Sosaia Feki scored to level the scores.
A soaring take to defuse a bomb was followed by an evasive run, getting around Eels centre Ryan Morgan to streak downfield and get his side in range. He collected a bomb that was allowed to bounce shortly after and with the referees' arm still raised signalling the last play knew he had to put boot to ball. His precision grubber looked to be going dead but pulled up just enough for the chasers that Parramatta fullback Reece Robinson was forced to take it dead.
The second that happened, every fan at the ground and every player on both sides could feel it. A Holmes field goal. It was coming. And it did.
Late in the set, a quality hit up and play the ball from experienced Sharks skipper Paul Gallen in front of the posts laid the perfect platform, experienced hooker Mick Ennis provided exactly the service Holmes needed, and the inexperienced Holmes with a head cool beyond his years slotted a field goal that was just simply never missing.
"He just loves that stuff, he gets himself into position and wants to do it and demands the ball, Gal got a really good play the ball for him and away he went," coach Shane Flanagan said of his young star after the game.
A classic 12-point turnaround
With Cronulla already up 12-0, a superb Luke Lewis offload sent Wade Graham into space and the gifted ball-playing forward produced a beautiful draw and pass finished by a precision cut-out pass seemingly put winger Sosaia Feki over for his second try of the game inside the opening 20 minutes.
The play was sent upstairs for an inspection where the video referees found the tiniest of knock ons from Jack Bird back before the ball went to Lewis was enough evidence to overturn the try.
The Eels surged downfield off the ensuing set and a well-placed Corey Norman bomb allowed Ryan Morgan to get his side's first try and a potential 18-0 lead was suddenly cut back to 12-6. The Sharks didn't let it ruffle them though, scoring again almost straight away to again stretch their lead.
Sometimes simple is best
The Eels scored the first try of the second half, in the 48th minute, with a near perfect display of simple one-out footy. From the inauspicious beginnings of a possibly ill-advised long pass on their own tryline that ended much better than it could have (with Semi Radradra tackled on his own 10-metre line) the Eels launched a furious downfield charge.
Receiving the ball quickly from dummy half their middle men belted the ball up, found their fronts, rolled out quick play the balls and got the Sharks running backwards. A big charge from Junior Paulo seriously got the ball rolling, an offload late in the set – the first of the set – from David Gower caught the already retreating defence off guard and set the scene for the best possible finish to the set.
The ball ended up with promising young forward Daniel Alvaro, who has played very limited minutes in his first grade games to date and finds himself in first grade this year largely through a massive injury toll. Showing incredible determination, not inconsiderable pace and great evasiveness to get within inches of the line then break through the last attempted tackle – from Jason Bukuya – to score a try that sent the home fans into raptures.
Sharks win their first Johnny Mannah Cup
Current Eels skipper Tim Mannah's brother Jon, an Eels junior who played for the Sharks at NRL level before returning to Parramatta, passed away from Hodgkin's lymphoma in early 2013. Since then, matches between the two clubs played at Parramatta's home ground are played for the Johnny Mannah Cup. The Eels were victorious in both the 2013 and 2014 iterations of the trophy.
When they came from behind to go up 28-22 it looked like they'd keep their unbeaten record intact but this time Cronulla stayed with them for their first win at Pirtek since 2010 after four straight losses at the ground.
"There was a lot to play for both sides. Particularly Parramatta with Timmy Mannah in their side," Gallen said after the game.
Mannah himself, making his comeback after missing last week with a knee injury, wasn't getting caught up in the talk about an emotional event however, saying he would have done his best to play regardless of the significance of the day.
"I like to think I try my best to play any game no matter what the occasion is. I worked pretty hard to get right. We just have to get better at closing games out and they taught us a really good lesson how to do it," Mannah said.
Yet another missed opportunity in a season full of them
Letting a late lead slip with a try in the dying minutes against Souths... coughing up a 30-6 lead at home to the Cowboys... a golden point loss to the Warriors after outscoring them three-tries-to-two in normal time and being unable to convert any... the Eels have another unwanted entry in the list of ones that got away in 2015 after failing to close out the win despite leading 28-22 with 10 minutes to go.
"A lot of lost opportunities," was Eels coach Brad Arthur's summary of a season that got away.
"We've been competitive and we're working hard but a lot of lost opportunities and that's something we need to work on in the pre-season.
"The thing we have done well is we've fronted up every week and it's important that we find something to play for again this week and that's playing for each other and playing for our fans to finish the season out."