Eels farewell Pirtek with win over Dragons
A stunning hat-trick from prolific young fullback Bevan French has seen the Eels sign off both Monday night football and their home ground in style.
In the last match before the ground undergoes a three-year redevelopment – and also the last Monday night game before the new scheduling comes in next season – the Eels put on a show for their home fans with a convincing 30-18 win over a lacklustre Dragons outfit.
The Tingha speedster has been making an excellent fist of his shift to the No.1 jersey and now has 16 tries in 12 NRL games.
The Eels' entire right edge benefited from the return of centre Brad Takairangi, who plugged their recent defensive woes while combining brilliantly with makeshift five-eighth Clint Gutherson – who had a spectacular game himself with ball in hand – to create endless headaches for Tim Lafai and Kurt Mann.
Young halfback Drew Hutchison's fourth first grade game – and first this season – in place of the demoted Benji Marshall did little to reignite the Dragons' attack.
Hutchison though showed promise with a number of kicks and scored a powerful try when challenging the line late in the first half and looked comfortable in first grade in a sign he has plenty more caps in his future.
The first half saw the home side take a one-try advantage to the break in a largely grinding affair, in which both teams fluffed their rare attacking chances with knock-ons or poor kicks.
The Eels were first to strike on the back of a Gutherson cut-out to Semi Radradra, who did well to weigh up his options and pass back infield to a supporting Bevan French.
They extended their lead in bizarre fashion when a powerful Kenny Edwards run drew a penalty in front of the posts. The rugged backrower neatly tapped the ball to his foot and sprinted past the unaware defensive line to plant the ball and steal a try before the Dragons even realised what was happening.
The Red V clawed one back moments before the break on the back of five consecutive sets at the Eels line when Hutchison took on the line and shrugged off Jeff Robson to score.
The Dragons appeared to lose their way badly early in the second half; repeated poor last-tackle options cost them plenty of territory and allowed the home side to largely dominate field position.
The Eels duly added the next try to the prolific French, whose 15th try in his 12th game came from supporting Gutherson, who poked his nose through the line before a quality offload to a flying French made it 18-6 after 50 minutes.
If the good-sized crowd of 13,553 liked that one, they loved the razzle dazzle that saw French bring up his hat-trick a few minutes later. More good lead-up work from Gutherson saw Takairangi in some space on the right flank and his precision kick back in field landed in the lap of a flying French.
The Dragons' left edge copped another pummelling a few minutes later when again Gutherson and Takairangi combined with the latter kicking behind the line for Michael Gordon to score.
The Dragons finally kicked into gear too late to matter with Mann earning a double in the space of two minutes – one off the back of a wonderful Lafai flick pass and another from a Widdop cross-field bomb – to close the final margin to 12 points.
Parramatta Eels 30 (French 3, Edwards, Gordon tries; Gordon 5 goals) defeated St George Illawarra Dragons 18 (Mann 2, Hutchison tries; Widdop 3 goals) at Pirtek Stadium. Half time: Eels 12-6. Crowd: 13,553.