Wests Tigers v Eels: Five key points
Defensive resolve surprisingly far outweighed attacking flair as the Eels ground out a low-scoring Easter Monday win over Wests Tigers. Here are five talking points from the blue and golds' 8-0 victory.
Injuries mount in war of attrition
The injuries started early and barely seemed to stop. Eels skipper Tim Mannah went off after 10 minutes with a shoulder injury that will require scans, though his coach Brad Arthur said the club captain is "hopeful" of being fit to face the Panthers next Sunday.
His fellow starting prop Junior Paulo spent time off field getting a concussion check though he later returned. After the game he told NRL.com he wasn't sure what happened in the incident but shook it off quickly.
"I didn't know what hit me at first, I was a bit rattled coming off. I'm not too sure what it was, I had a split second blackout," Paulo said.
Bench prop Danny Wicks copped an accidental elbow from teammate Beau Scott as the Eels' front-row stocks continued to dive. He came back to start the second half with his cheek badly swollen and will also require scans to determine his fitness for next week.
The depletion of the forwards made the Eels' win even sweeter, according to the coach.
"It was probably pleasing today too from the 25 minute mark I was looking down at our bench and we had one bloke on our bench for most of the game, they were in and out of the sheds. To lose two front rowers probably makes the effort even better," Arthur said.
Wests Tigers prop Tim Grant was also rubbed out in the 19th minute when he was taken for a concussion check and did not pass.
Eels make a statement with defence
Their attack may still be spluttering but the Eels have comfortably the best defensive record of any side after four games with just 39 points conceded – next best is Cronulla with 50.
While Arthur wasn't pleased with the lack of fluency with ball in hand he had plenty of praise for his side's ability to keep an attacking team like Wests Tigers to nil over 80 minutes.
"It was pleasing that we managed to keep them to nil. The last couple of weeks we've let in a couple of soft tries at the back end of the game which have been disappointing," Arthur said.
"We were well off where we needed to be with the footy but if we keep defending and turning up for each other hopefully we've got a little bit of time [to get it right]. We haven't had a lot of time together as a team with this group of players so a big emphasis in the pre-season was on our defence and our physical aspect of the game. At the moment it's okay."
Tedesco a class above in saving tries
For all the raps Tigers fullback James Tedesco rightly earns for his wizardry in attack, his defensive abilities are something special to behold.
In just the fourth minute a one-one-one ankles tackle on a rampaging Semi Radradra close to the line had him at a million-to-one to prevent the powerful Fijian scoring but he pulled his man down short and his side repelled that Eels set.
Shortly after half time, speed machine and another noted try-scorer in Michael Jennings cut through to make the Tigers' in-goal only for a wonderful ball-and-all tackle from the Tigers custodian to keep the ball away from the turf.
Shortly after, giant prop Junior Paulo burst through close to the Tigers line and Tedesco looked to have made it three unbelievable saves in one game when his ankle tap helped jolt the ball free as Paulo planted it on the try-line, but a video referral overturned the no-try call as Paulo was found to have kept a finger on the ball as he grounded it.
"We just talked about [those efforts] as a group," coach Jason Taylor said after the game.
"It's a great thing for our club because everyone talks about the Wests Tigers as an attacking team."
He said some defensive highlights such as those over the past fortnight are of a kind not seen at the club for several years.
Bench hookers fine by Taylor
Despite the loss to nil Tigers coach Taylor was happy to have started returning hooker Robbie Farah on the bench alongside young rake Manaia Cherrington as makeshift dummy-half Dene Halatau handled the opening stages.
After the game he said the plan was to keep Farah – down on match fitness after a few weeks out injured – away from the opening salvos and save some spark for the end of the game.
"The idea was to just keep Robbie out of that first 15 or so minutes so that he didn't have to do all that defence and then we were confident that he'd get through the game from there," Taylor said.
"We had Manaia on the bench in case we needed some spark later in the game – which we did – but we just couldn't find the play the ball speed to give Manaia an opportunity late in the game.
"Robbie would have got to the end of the game had we needed him to which was why we held him out at the start. It was a simple plan which worked well but we didn't get a result."
Foran completes a fine weekend for milestone men
A series of high-profile players have brought up milestones over the weekend and all have had something to smile about afterwards, though some more than others.
At the Bulldogs, centre Josh Morris bagged a pair of tries in his 200th game while five-eighth Josh Reynolds was also a strong performer in his side's big win over the Rabbitohs.
At the Roosters, Shaun Kenny-Dowall may have finished on the losing side but he was close to the best player on the park and deserved a better result after racking up two tries, 11 tackle breaks and almost 200 metres in a towering personal effort.
Eels playmaker Kieran Foran's 150th NRL game ended in smiles after he played a solid if understated role in helping his side to an 8-0 win.
"It was nice to play the 150th today and get the win," Foran said.
"The boys worked really hard and it's always nice to come away with the win in those milestone games but it was more important that we got the win, I'm really glad that we did and we can keep building."