Eels thrash Raiders at Pirtek
Parramatta shrugged off another week of salary cap speculation as their previously sputtering attack sparked into life against Canberra, rolling in four first-half tries in a 36-6 blitzing in front of 12,947 fans at Pirtek Stadium.
Slick work from Corey Norman set up an early Michael Jennings double while the Eels' consistently resilient defence and with some sloppy ball handling from the Green Machine scuppered Canberra's attacking chances.
Parramatta's halves combined brilliantly while Canberra as a unit looked sluggish backing up just five days from a physical and hard-earned win at Belmore on Monday night. A 56-44 first-half possession count against the visitors further sapped their energy as the Eels ran riot and injuries to key men didn't help.
The nightmare for Ricky Stuart's men began as early as the fourth set of the game when a slick line break from Norman got him two-on-one with fullback Jack Wighton to set up an easy try for Michael Jennings in just the fourth minute.
Shortly after, a dropped ball over the line from Blake Austin – chasing a precision Aiden Sezer grubber – proved a huge turning point with the bunker reversing the on-field try ruling.
Norman beautifully held up a pass to pop a miracle short ball at the Raiders line in the 15th minute to send Jennings almost untouched through a gap so tiny as to be almost nonexistent.
Injuries began to strike around the 20-minute mark with both Tepai Moeroa and Frank-Paul Nuuausala going for concussion checks but the big blow was a pair of injuries to Dally M leader Josh Hodgson, who was taken from the field with knee and thumb concerns. All bar Nuuausala eventually returned to the field but Hodgson will be the major concern moving forward.
With Canberra proving their own worst enemies at times with some poor defensive reads and three cold drops in the first half alone by fullback Jack Wighton, the Eels were able to pile on the pressure as both halves linked well on both sides of the field in attack and pulled the strings like expert puppet-masters.
Halfback Kieran Foran made a mockery of his early-season hamstring woes with a pair of Brad Fittler-esque steps to first break the Raiders line then leave WIghton gasping at fresh air as he scored next to the posts to make it 18-0 inside half an hour before Beau Scott – who had a whale of a game with plenty of offloads – pounced when Sezer fumbled a Foran grubber to make it 24-0.
The Raiders had one last assault at the Eels line before the break but after getting a fresh set of six inside the Eels 10, Joey Leilua dropped it on the first to sum up the Raiders' opening 40.
Parramatta coach Brad Arthur told Fox Sports at half-time he was happy with the first half but wanted better discipline from his side and he got nothing of the sort as Danny Wicks dropped it in the first set and the Eels then gave up four consecutive repeat sets at their own line as Brad Takairangi knocked down a pass before a series of offside and stripping penalties.
But the defence-minded coach would've been delighted with the way his charges soaked up 20-odd tackles at the line before getting the ball back from a Raiders error.
They ended up being next to score when Sezer fumbled a Foran grubber in-goal for Kenny Edwards to pounce before an enterprising right-side break from the Green Machine (including a no-look over-the-shoulder offload from Wighton) finished with Austin grounding Jordan Rapana's kick to get his side on the board – though at 30-6 it was little more than a consolation try.
A leaping Brad Takairangi cashed in on a precision Norman bomb to rub salt in Canberra's wounds and a final 36-6 score line.
Parramatta Eels 36 (Jennings 2, Foran, Scott, Edwards, Takairangi tries, Gordon 6 goals) def Canberra Raiders 6 (Austin try, Croker goal) at Pirtek Stadium. Half-time: Parramatta 24-0. Crowd: 12,947. On report: Fensom.