An early injury to winger Semi Radradra somewhat soured an otherwise brave and thrilling 22-18 comeback win by Parramatta over the Sydney Roosters at Pirtek Stadium.
A series of stunning moments punctuated the pulsating 80-minute contest: a length-of-the-field try-saving tackle from Roosters speedster Joe Manu on pacey Eels try-scorer Bevan French; a standout performance from Roosters fullback Latrell Mitchell; and a masterful game from Parramatta playmaker Corey Norman which overshadowed that earned his team the win.
The come-from-behind win looked very long odds for an Eels side that has had to push aside another week of off-field controversy following fresh news troubled star recruit Kieran Foran had asked to take an indefinite break from the sport, which was then coupled with early, match-ending injuries to Radradra and hooker Isaac De Gois to what is already an injury-ravaged roster.
Norman was the best player on the field, directly creating all four of Parramatta's tries – three with clever grubber kicks behind the line and one with a deft short pass – as well as repeatedly turning the Roosters around with his accurate long kicking game before preventing a possible match-winning try to the Roosters in the final minute.
Former Eel and 2009 grand finalist Jeff Robson was a welcome inclusion in his first game in blue and gold since 2011, spending the majority of it at dummy half filling in for a concussed De Gois.
For the Roosters, neither a threatening 80 minutes from Mitchell – who scored two tries and caused huge headches for the Eels defence with his potent running game – nor a powerful return from Origin back-rower Boyd Cordner (who scored a try of his own) was quite enough.
The result surely ends any dim hopes the Tricolours had of making a late finals charge with even eight wins from their final eight games probably not enough from here. By the same token, once Parramatta's 12-point salary cap penalty is finalised, this win keeps their faint finals hopes alive.
The win was particularly brave given the club's injury toll; from the time exciting youngster Bevan French was denied a try in just the fourth minute because the assisting pass from his inside man Ma'u was ruled forward, little went right for the home side.
Radradra's sixth-minute injury – on the back of Michael Jennings' absence and Brad Takairangi's pre-game withdrawal – meant a second rower was forced to play centre on both sides of the field and the Roosters were ready to attack the makeshift Clint Gutherson-Kenny Edwards left side combo at every opportunity.
Radradra has suffered a possible medial ligament strain and will be assessed but the injury is often a six-week one.
The move to attack that edge paid dividends for the visitors barely two minutes after Radradra left the field when a surging run from Kenny-Dowall broke through a few defenders and his wonderful offload to a supporting Latrell Mitchell sent the latter on a free run to the line.
A concussion check for Tim Mannah after 17 minutes (which he passed to later return) and one a few plays later for Isaac De Gois (who copped a knee to the head attempting to tackle a rampaging Dylan Napa and did not return) meant the blue and golds were down to a single fit player on the bench for a period.
Despite the injuries the Eels held on gamely and levelled up in the 21st minute when fullback Michael Gordon swept onto a Norman grubber.
Two quick tries to Roosters Mitchell and Cordner shortly after half-time – both created by isolating towering winger Dan Tupou against the much smaller French with cross field bombs – looked to have closed out the contest.
But the Eels, and Norman, had other ideas.
Back-rower-turned-centre Ma'u bagged a double in the space of seven minutes courtesy of a Norman grubber then a flat pass at the line to square the ledger.
The Roosters should have found a way against the undermanned Eels from there but the Eels hung in tenaciously and the 8,464 brave souls who ventured out in the awful winter weather erupted when Clint Gutherson latched onto a Norman grubber behind the line in the 75th minute.
The Roosters regained possession through from a short restart and launched a final assault at the line. A right side move looked to have squared the scores again but that man Norman raced across in cover to deny Manu and the Eels held on to a morale-boosting win.
Eels 22 (Ma'u 2, Gordon, Gutherson tries; Gordon 3 goals) def. Roosters 18 (Mitchell 2, Cordner tries; Hastings 2 goals, Taukeiaho goal) at Pirtek Stadium. Crowd: 8464.