Battered Eels claim gutsy win over Dogs
Parramatta's disrupted week soon became an injury-ravaged nightmare on the field but the players produced a gutsy 80-minute effort to hold on to an impressive 20-12 win over Canterbury at ANZ Stadium.
With plenty of headlines in the lead-up surrounding the absence of skipper Kieran Foran due to personal issues, the Eels faced a further pre-game reshuffle with Tepai Moeroa ruled out and Daniel Alvaro replaced by the returning Tim Mannah.
Their right edge became unrecognisable with centre Brad Takairangi moved to the halves and right edge defender Beau Scott to the middle in place of Moeroa and early attack down that edge looked like it could cost them the game.
Things got worse when Mannah left at the 20-minute mark after succumbing to his shoulder injury and fullback Michael Gordon missed the second half with a quad strain, causing further disruption.
But somehow the Eels – down to one man on the bench for much of the second half – overcome two first-half tries to Canterbury to claim the lead early in the second half and grind out the win under huge adversity.
They did get several slices of luck – Canterbury had three tries disallowed on review when infringements were detected while there was a hint of a forward pass in Clint Gutherson's vital try right before half-time and the Dogs were somewhat unlucky to be only two ahead at the break.
The scoring started with a regulation Moses Mbye cut-out pass to Curtis Rona, who took early advantage of an out-of-position Gutherson in just the fifth minute and it looked for all money Rona would be having a field day.
He almost had his second minutes later in similar fashion but Gordon just managed to hold his man up.
A couple of scrappy sets from Canterbury let the pressure off a little and a Sam Kasiano dropped ball set the Eels on the attack. When Kerrod Holland ended up with Corey Norman's attacking grubber he broke into space to send a sprinting Mbye away to score but the 95-metre try was called back when a deflection to an accidentally offside James Graham was detected in the lead-up.
It was a classic 12-point turnaround as a perfect Scott offload right at the line sat up perfectly for a charging Takairangi.
The Dogs extended their lead when Josh Morris took advantage of Semi Radradra racing out of the line to make it 12-6 after 30.
With both sides seemingly happy to see half-time arrive – especially an Eels side that had already lost Mannah with his shoulder still not right and had both Gordon and Nathan Peats struggling – it was amazingly Parramatta who had the final say.
A couple of questionable passes got Gutherson into space and he skipped through a diving David Klemmer and produced some slick footwork to beat fullback Will Hopoate to score in the corner.
Gordon failed to return to the field after the break, falling to a bruised quad, and the Dogs immediately suffered through their third (correctly) disallowed try of the game. Targeting the right wing vacated by stand-in fullback Gutherson, Rona was pushed into touch in the act of scoring by new winger Vai Toutai.
Gutherson – having a fine game since his early defensive mis-read – went to a new level at fullback, producing some stunning kick defusals and returns under enormous pressure. He produced some superb work in the 45th minute to get his side on the front foot and in range for a brilliant solo try from Norman to claim the lead for the first time in the 49th minute.
Another great running set from the Eels helped them go bang-bang as Rona couldn't handle Takairangi's bomb and Toutai scored to make it 20-12, with Gutherson struggling as substitute goal kicker.
From there followed a thoroughly tense and absorbing 20 minutes; the Eels lost Danny Wicks to a concussion check after Toutai's try meaning – with Gordon and Mannah out for the game – they were down to one on the bench. But despite this they were the side full of energy. Radradra produced a violent charge to bowl over James Graham, Gutherson continued to evade all comers at fullback and the forwards left on the field – Kenny Edwards, Peni Terepo and Junior Paulo in particular – proved a hard-running handful.
The Eels were held up in goal or tackled just short several times as Canterbury desperately hung on, refusing to concede more points, and launched a final assault in the final six minutes as a penalty helped them to camp on the Parramatta line.
But the blue and goal wall held firm despite a serious examination to earn Brad Arthur's men as tough a win as you're likely to see.
Parramatta Eels 20 (Takairangi, Gutherson, Norman, Toutai tries; Gordon, Gutherson goals) defeated Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 12 (Rona, Morris tries; Holland 2 goals) at ANZ Stadium. Half-time: Canterbury 12-10. Crowd: 31,815.