Eels outlast Titans in Darwin
Despite an injury crisis in the halves, Parramatta have put together their most disciplined game since being engulfed by their salary cap crisis to down the Titans 22-12 in Darwin on Saturday night.
The Titans – looking to consolidate their place in the top eight – were their own worst enemies for much of the match, dropping plenty of ball and rarely looked like troubling the Eels despite scoring the first two tries of the game.
Breakout star Ashley Taylor had a hand in both those opening tries but showed his inexperience with some wayward passes and kicks, including a drop-out and general play kick that sailed out on the full.
Back-rower Kenny Edwards – playing five-eighth in the absence of the injured Kieran Foran, Brad Takairangi, Mitch Cornish and Luke Kelly – performed his role well and set up a try, though his one and only kick may result in the loss of his kicking licence moving forward.
Rookie winger Bevan French scored his second try in his second career game though should have had two had he not spilled one in the first half while former Eel Nathan Peats was also denied when he dropped one over the line trying to surge from dummy-half in an otherwise understated game against his old teammates.
After surviving an Eels attacking raid in the opening minutes, the Titans dominated the subsequent 15 minutes of play and put two tries past the blue and golds, largely on the back of skilful work from impressive young half Taylor.
A lobbed no-look cut-out pass from Taylor put winger Anthony Don over unmarked in just the sixth minute then a tricky Taylor bomb was batted back by Don for Agnatius Paasi to make it 8-nil in the 12th with a pair of missed conversions keeping the score in check.
From there, a horror completion rate started to count against the Titans; while the Eels finished the half with 19 of 21 sets completed for a 90 per cent rate, the Titans at one stage were down at 50 per cent with seven from their first 14 completed.
They dodged a bullet in the 21st minute when Michael Jennings was held up and video inspection revealed the ball had all but scraped the turf; and again just three minutes later when young winger French dropped the ball attempting to ground a Norman grubber.
It was third time lucky for Parramatta and second time lucky for French minutes later when the 20-year-old flyer swept on a loose ball when a Taylor pass to Josh Hoffman went astray and raced 80 metres to score – collecting a big hit from the goal post in the grounding as Hurrell caught up to him.
Some wonderful evasive work down the short side on the last from stand-in five-eighth Edwards set up Michael Gordon to put the Eels in front for the first time, going up 12-8 in the 32nd minute.
A Gordon penalty goal stretched the lead to six in the 49th minute when a Taylor drop-out restart went into touch on the full.
The Eels repelled a few sets at their line as the Titans looked to get themselves back into the game but their defence held firm and a loose Bird offload let the pressure off. From the very next set Norman stepped through the Titans line to send Pritchard away for a try.
Another Gordon penalty shortly after stretched it out to 22-8, leaving the Titans under 15 minutes to find three tries.
A no-try ruling on Peats – who lost the ball trying to burrow over from dummy-half against his old club 10 minutes from time – didn't help. However a Jennings drop coming out of territory set the scene for Don to score his second when the Eels couldn't clean up a cross-field kick.
A third missed conversion kept the margin at 10 with less than five to play and that was as close as the Titans got.
Parramatta Eels 22 (Bevan French, Michael Gordon, Kaysa Pritchard tries; Michael Gordon 5 goals) defeated Gold Coast Titans 12 (Anthony Don 2, Agnatius Paasi tries) at TIO Stadium. Half-time: Eels 12-8. Crowd: 7,722. On report: Kaysa Pritchard.