Gutsy Eels dent Manly's finals hopes
A resilient Parramatta Eels have stolen a 10-9 win that all but ends Manly's finals hopes in a low-scoring thriller at Pirtek Stadium on Friday night.
Although just one try was scored by either team through 80 minutes the 8,143 fans were on the edge of their seats throughout despite the second half becoming something of a penalty goal shootout.
A rare spot of bright news for Parramatta right before kick-off – with coach Brad Arthur extending his deal through to the end of 2019 – was followed by more cause for celebration for long-suffering Eels fans on the back of a determined defensive effort from their team.
Manly dominated long stretches of the game but weren't able to deliver the killer blow against an Eels side that defended stoutly throughout.
The intent was there from both sides early but particularly from 100-gamer and former Eel Darcey Lussick and his main antagonist, Parramatta skipper Beau Scott. A couple of fiery early exchanges between the pair led to a speaking-to from the officials, and a monster collision with Lussick shortly after sent Tim Mannah for a concussion check, though he returned later in the first half.
Impressive young Eels winger Bevan French produced a piece of footballing magic to grubber past the line on the last and chase through, win the race to the ball and open the scoring in just the sixth minute.
The Tingha speedster produced an arguably even more impressive play when his team lost the ball form the restart; with the line under threat and faced with a three-on-one overlap against him he shot out of the line to tap the pass upwards then run back to catch it and both save a try and earn possession for his team.
A spirited arm wrestle evolved through an opening 40 that saw Manly mostly dominate possession and both sides defend impressively but it should have been the Eels to score next when that man French beat opposite man Jorge Taufua to a Jeff Robson grubber but couldn't ground it cleanly.
Parramatta continued to hold their line intact impressively until a series of repeat sets to Manly late in the half finally told when Api Koroisau burrowed his way over from dummy half and wrestled the ball down.
A Daly Cherry-Evans field goal right on the siren earned his side an unlikely lead on the stroke of half-time.
The Eels reclaimed a one-point lead via a penalty goal following a high shot from Josh Starling that left Tepai Moeroa concussed, ending his night, and with Starling on report.
The lead didn't last long however; a penalty against Brad Takairangi for taking Jamie Buhrer off the ball allowed Walker to slot the two for a 9-8 lead with just over 20 minutes to play.
The Eels started pushing passes as the clock wound down and it looked like Manly would be able to frustrate them out of the game given Parramatta's lack of strike power. French was moved to fullback for a spell but Manly continued to hang on grimly until a disastrous four minutes from full-time.
A disorganised right-side shift from the Eels resulted in a lost ball but Marty Taupau was penalised for an off-the-ball shoulder charge and Gordon stepped up for a tricky shot at goal from around 10 metres from touch and 40 metres out.
Despite a below-par year off the tee by his standards the ball glided straight between the sticks and when the Eels retrieved Manly's short kick-off the blue and gold fans erupted and, in full voice, rode their team home through a tense final two minutes that all but ends Manly's finals hopes.
Parramatta Eels 10 (French try; Gordon 3 goals) defeated Manly Sea Eagles 9 (Koroisau try; Walker 2 goals; Cherry-Evans field goal) at Pirtek Stadium. Half time: Manly 7-6. Crowd: 8,143. On report: Josh Starling.