The Eels clung on grimly with the majority of their 2016 salary cap unavailable but with plenty to play for it was the Wests Tigers who gave their finals hopes a boost with a gritty 23-8 win at ANZ Stadium.
Moses' leadership 'through the roof'
Even before injury ruled halves partner Luke Brooks out of the second half, five-eighth Mitch Moses was proving he had well and truly gone to the next level in 2016.
He was heavily involved in a two-try burst midway through the first half to set the tone of the game and controlled proceedings in a mature fashion through the second half.
His coach and captain had plenty of praise for the 21-year-old playmaker in the post-match press conference.
"I thought Mitchell Moses controlled the game really well, he had to step up when Brooksy went down after 30 or 25 minutes and it's a real positive for the boys," said skipper Aaron Woods.
Coach Jason Taylor was even more effusive.
"His leadership is just going through the roof, that's the big thing with Mitch at the moment," Taylor said.
"He's always been extremely talkative but he's now channelling that into encouraging the team, taking control of the team, he and Luke have really developed it over the last few weeks and when Luke wasn't there tonight Mitch was great."
Eels lack finesse with most of salary cap absent
It's the stark stat that underscores exactly what the Eels are up against in this last six weeks of the season – just one of their top 10 earners for 2016, club captain Tim Mannah, was on the park against the Tigers.
For various reasons, Kieran Foran, Corey Norman, Anthony Watmough, Michael Jennings, Beau Scott, Semi Radradra, Nathan Peats, Junior Paulo and Manu Ma'u (plus reserve halves Luke Kelly and Mitch Cornish) were unavailable for this game and between them that's a huge whack of the club's 2016 salary cap not playing.
Makeshift pivot Clint Gutherson again tried valiantly, as did mid-season buy, halfback Jeff Robson, to steer the team around. But there were too many untested combinations, too many kicks went dead and too many passes wide of their intended target to truly trouble the Tigers.
"I think Tim [Mannah] was the only player today in our top 10 earners than played but what it does is gives other players an opportunity," coach Brad Arthur said after the game.
"It was courageous, the effort's there, we just lacked a little bit of finesse or polish so to speak. It's hard, we've got a few injuries and whatever the circumstances are but we're still putting 17 blokes out there, they're capable. We need to do better.
"We haven't given up, that's for sure and I think that was evident. We're still playing tough, we're still being resilient but just lack a little bit of finesse and polish at times."
Tigers opt to take the two… four times
The final 23-8 scoreline featured three penalty goals from the Wests Tigers, with one more attempted penalty shot missed.
In a tight game – just six points separated the teams after 64 minutes – those goals proved useful but the exhausted Eels could have been further behind if the Tigers opted for a quick tap a few more times.
In particular the fourth and final shot – which stretched an eight point lead to a 10 point lead – seemed questionable, but it's hard to be too critical when the team walked away with the two competition points.
But as in-game caller Andrew Voss pointed out, surely doing what your opponent least wants you to do has some merit? On almost every occasion Mitch Moses called for the kicking tee, the Eels would have had a sense of relief their determined defensive efforts had held their try-line intact and the score-line wasn't getting out of hand.
Eels to welcome troops back but Brooks in doubt
Arthur said centre Michael Jennings, captain Beau Scott and suspended back-rower Manu Ma'u were all set to return for next Friday night's clash against Manly at Pirtek Stadium. Halfback Jeff Robson was also expected not to miss game time after appearing to suffer a shoulder injury early in the second half.
However Tigers halfback Luke Brooks went off with a suspected posterior cruciate ligament strain and will need scans to determine his availability for a crucial meeting against the Cowboys at Leichhardt Oval next Sunday afternoon.
"I think all the injuries out of today won't keep anyone out. We're expecting Beau Scott, Manu back off suspension and Michael Jennings next week," said Arthur.
Of Brooks, Taylor said: "It's certainly not like an ACL, it seems to be a PCL but we'll see.
"He played on for, it was probably 15 or 20 minutes of the first half with it.
"He hyper-extended his knee, that's what his issue is. He'll have scans obviously. He was fine to move around, his exact line was 'I'm fine in defence it's just when I try to accelerate'."
Tigers join the bottom eight logjam
Saturday's win moves the Tigers to equal ladder points with three other teams – the best of which is the seventh-placed Titans.
The earlier game saw the Warriors down Penrith, meaning both those sides are locked with the Tigers and Titans on 22 points.
Arguably, a Penrith win (which would have moved the Tigers up to ninth) would have been a better result for the Tigers but they now lay claims to equal seventh spot on the ladder and know their fate is well and truly in their own hands.
"I didn't know the Warriors score, it's probably a good result for us but at the end of the day if we just keep winning games we don't have to worry about results," Woods said.
"I thought the boys were really good, we played an 80 minute game tonight, we spoke about it all week where we were going to turn the ball over and we didn't give them any easy ball tonight which was a real positive for our boys."