An outstanding performance from Eels fullback Clint Gutherson – who has displaced incumbent Bevan French at the back – has sparked Parramatta to a dominant 24-10 win over St George Illawarra at ANZ Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Gutherson scored two tries – one a brilliant length-of-the-field effort – while five-eighth Corey Norman's pinpoint kicking game turned the Dragons backs around all afternoon and forced four drop outs.
The bad news was a potentially serious knee injury to luckless hooker Kaysa Pritchard who was stretchered off in the first half with a suspected ruptured ACL.
After a horror loss to the Cowboys in Darwin last week, Eels coach Brad Arthur rung some changes with centre Michael Jennings' return from a quad strain causing a backline reshuffle with Gutherson taking over at the back and French shifting to the wing.
Jennings slotted back on the right edge, opposite to his usual left edge spot, with Brad Takairangi rejoining Semi Radradra on the left.
The changes brought immediate success and in particular the slightly-built French had no worries filling a spot generally now reserved for big, powerful tackle busters, scoring one try and more impressively, pulling off a number of huge defensive plays.
The Dragons have now scored just 12 points combined over the past two losses, coming off a narrow win against the last-placed Tigers the week before that and were out of sorts from the get-go.
For the second time against the Dragons this year the Eels started fast and their first try – via Gutherson – came in just the third minute off the back of a huge Nathan Brown charge.
The second came in the 25th minute against the run of play; with the Dragons on the attack Gutherson scooped up a Kalifa Faifai Loa grubber and exploded off the mark to streak 80 and score.
In between the Eels lost hooker Kaysa Pritchard to a possibly serious knee injury with the hooker stretchered off in the 24th minute.
The Eels dominated much of the opening 40 but were under the pump in the final 10 minutes with the Dragons finally cracking the Eels line four minutes before the break when a Jason Nightingale offload took advantage of Brad Takairangi's defensive misread to make it 12-4 at half-time.
The break appeared to come at a good time for the Eels, who rediscovered their energy and wrested back control early in the second half.
Their third try, much like their second, came from a poor Dragons touch. On this occasion centre Tim Lafai hoofed an offload backwards and Bevan French raced up and put a huge hit on Joel Thompson as he went back to clean up the scraps. The hit forced the ball free and Jennings streaked away to score.
With Norman's long kicking game pinning the Dragons inside their own territory and forcing drop out after drop out the pressure eventually told when Moses kicked early in the count and a wicked bounce proved too tricky for Nightingale to clean up with French pouncing to make it 24-6.
With time running out for the Dragons, a long-range movement got them in range and big man Paul Vaughan wound up close to the line and barrelled over to make it 24-10 with 15 minutes to play but, despite a few attacking chances for both teams, there was no further addition to the score.
Parramatta Eels 24 (Gutherson 2, Jennings, French tries; Gutherson 3, Moses 1 goals) defeated St George Illawarra Dragons 10 (Macdonald, Vaughan tries; Widdop goal) at ANZ Stadium. Half time: Eels 12-4. Crowd: 13,559.
NRL.com unofficial votes: 3 points: Clint Gutherson. 2 points: Corey Norman. 1 point: Bevan French.