Parramatta showed incredible resilience to grind out a win in an NRL Telstra Premiership game where they had every excuse to lose. Here are five talking points from their gutsy 20-12 victory over Canterbury.
Battered Eels refuse excuses
By their own admission, Parramatta had plenty of excuses to lose this one. Aside from the well-publicised issues around Kieran Foran in the lead-up, the Eels also ruled out lock Tepai Moeroa with a badly bruised shin suffered a fortnight ago on game day.
Returning prop Tim Mannah succumbed to his shoulder injury at the 20-minute mark while a quad injury to fullback Michael Gordon – suffered in just the third minute – saw him fail to return to the field after half-time.
The reshuffle was significant with plenty of players out of their regular positions – Brad Takairangi in the halves, Clint Gutherson at fullback and Manu Ma'u in the centres – while all the forwards had to absorb extra work.
"I guess we've had a lot of excuses to lay down and give up but there's a good feel around this club at the moment," man of the match Corey Norman said.
"There's a real belief here. I know it's only still early but it's good to have."
Added coach Brad Arthur: "I'm very proud of our playing group at the moment. There's been ample opportunities over the last four, five, six weeks where we could find excuses if we really wanted to and again this week there's a couple of excuses. At half-time there's a couple of excuses if we really want to find them and it was a tough game."
Disallowed tries haunt Bulldogs
Sometimes the bounce of the ball just doesn't go your way and on another day Canterbury could well have won this one by a wide margin.
There was no debate about the legitimacy of the decision-making – even Bulldogs coach Des Hasler conceded the calls to disallow two possible tries to Curtis Rona and one each to Moses Mbye and Sam Kasiano were the correct ones – but it can take the wind out of a team's sails to go so close and come up with nothing.
In the 10th minute – having already scored a try in near-identical circumstances – Rona was denied by the width of a blade of grass thanks to Michael Gordon's try-saver.
Just six minutes later a clear accidental offside meant Moses Mbye's length of the field sprint was all for naught and straight after half-time a desperate try-saver from Vai Toutai managed to push Rona into touch as he grounded the ball. A no-try against Kasiano who was found to have lost the ball in the act of grounding it with a minute to play was largely inconsequential by that stage.
"It was a tighter affair than what the score suggested. It wasn't our night as far as tries were concerned, I think we had four disallowed tries. Probably all legitimate to call it that way," Hasler said.
"To get one of those two would have been nice, probably changes the outcome of the game but that wasn't the reason we lost the game."
Takairangi relishes halves shift
Regular centre Brad Takairangi has played a bit of back row in his previous stints at the Roosters and Titans but prior to Friday night had just three NRL games – all in late 2014 for the Titans – playing five-eighth.
But after an assured performance, in which he ran and supported well, let Corey Norman run the show and scored one try while kicking to create another, his coach said there was never any doubt the second-generation Eel would get the nod to fill in for Foran.
"He's been itching to get in there for a while. 'Takas' is a really good footballer, he's got a good footy head. He kept it nice and simple tonight, he stuck to his strengths and it worked for us," Arthur said.
Added Takairangi's halves partner Norman: "He's good, I thought he played out of his skin, he did his job and didn't try too much. He played really well for the team and that's what we needed from him."
Half-time try hurts Dogs
With Canterbury arguably unlucky to be ahead only 12-6 with a minute to go until half time, their luck was not about to improve.
A dummy-half pass from Nathan Peats looked to float forward before a marginal tap-on from Takairangi got Gutherson into space. From there some Gutherson magic combined with a defensive misread from Will Hopoate helped the Eels to within two points of their opponents at the break – a huge result given how the first half had gone.
"I thought we contained them pretty well in the first half, I thought we dominated pretty well, I thought we did pretty well in the first half and they didn't make much metres," Hasler said.
"Probably the try right on half time hurt a little bit, 12-6 to 12-10. We're a little bit disappointed with the tries they scored. From our point of view, a defensive point of view they were reasonably soft tries."
Parramatta's toughness the lasting impression
As stated above, the Eels had every excuse to lose this one and simply refused. But what really sticks in the mind is the way they won this one. Semi Radradra in the second half steamrolled over the top of James Graham in one of the most powerful hit-ups you're ever likely to see. Little Nathan Peats threw himself in front of a rampaging Sam Kasiano in the final minute to save a try. Unheralded winger Clint Gutherson slotted into fullback in the second half and produced some gutsy long range kick returns. Peni Terepo proved on countless occasions why "Terepo" and "self-preservation" are terms that never belong in the same sentence. The top four players in the 'missed tackle' category were Bulldogs players
"It's about our standards and expectations that we've got as a group. I stopped being concerned about [our toughness] a long time ago," Arthur said after the game.
Acting captain Beau Scott added: "I thought we were tough and hung in there and really turned up for each other and that's all you can ask on a night like tonight."