Eels halves Dylan Brown and Mitch Moses have made a statement on the eve of the 2019 Telstra Premiership, starring in a 22-20 trial loss against Canberra at St Marys in a match that has gone a long way to settling Brad Arthur's playmaking roster ahead of the season proper.
The two halves plus fullback Clint Gutherson and hooker Reed Mahoney played 55 minutes unchanged to start the game and all played well; they also combined to set up all four tries as the Eels went ahead 20-0 in just over half an hour's play.
Brown was a constant threat with his running game and produced some composed kicks, one of which earned his side an early repeat set when Raiders fullback Bailey Simmonson was pinned in the corner and pushed into touch by George Jennings.
Returning prop Junior Paulo was a fearsome sight with his long hair tied back in braids, looking as fit as he ever has and popping a number of damaging offloads in an impressive opening 20-minute stint.
Moses created two first half tries with some razzle dazzle, eyes-up play in a promising sign for his developing combination with Brown.
For the Raiders, newly promoted Simmonson was favoured ahead of Brad Abbey and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad at fullback for the first half hour but produced some questionable decisions in defence including one error that led to an Eels try. Nicoll-Klokstad got his turn from the half hour mark after Simmonson was substituted; he produced a couple of heart-in-mouth moments at the back but also some dangerous runs throughout the second half.
Match: Eels v Raiders
Round 1 -
Venue: St Marys Leagues Stadium, Sydney
The Raiders had few of their likely round one 17 on the park, with halfback Sam Williams steering the ship at halfback. Luke Bateman, Emre Guler, Dunamis Lui, Siliva Havili, Jack Murchie and Ryan Sutton in the pack held their own but otherwise the trial squad was largely made up of depth players.
Young forward Corey Horsburgh proved he will be a player to watch in the future with an impressive spell.
First points came in the 13th minute as a pair of slick passes from Moses and skipper Clint Gutherson put winger Ethan Parry over in the right corner.
Moses opted to run it on the last in the 23rd, fooling the Raiders defence and streaking into space before producing a lovely chip out wide for an unmarked Parry to earn his second.
Moses' stunning first half continued shortly after; a last-play grubber rebounded off a Canberra player before Moses regathered, ran into space and banana kicked off the outside of his boot with the horror bounce forcing an error from Simmonson before Moses again regathered and slipped a flick pass to centre Jaemon Salmon to score.
A monster run from Brown later in the half put the Canberra defence on the back foot to allow Gutherson to toe ahead off the next play with Michael Jennings showing he hasn't lost his trademark stunning pace in winning the race to the ball.
Canberra hooker Tom Starling, who was a constant threat, darted over from dummy half under the posts right on the stroke of half time to at least get Canberra on the board as the Eels took a 20-6 lead to the break.
Some nice work from Brown, Paulo and Lane got Michael Jennings in space early in the second half but George Jennings couldn’t handle the last pass.
Instead JJ Collins got another one back for the Raiders as he hit a nice flat ball from Havili at the line, although he appeared to have dropped the ball in the tackle as he went to ground it.
At the 60-minute drinks break, Eels coach Brad Arthur decided he had seen enough and pulled most of the NRL squad, finishing the match with mostly reserve grade and junior players on the field.
Sam Williams fooled the Eels with a late dummy at the line to earn Canberra's third try shortly before full time before a length of the field effort from Andre Niko from a loose ball earned the Green Machine an unlikely 22-20 win with the winning conversion nailed after the full time siren.