Parramatta snatched a 22-22 draw with Penrith after scoring a late try in Saturday’s EISS Super Sapphire Trial Tribute in Bega.
It was a fitting result for a game that was much more than a trial as Eels and Panthers players visited the fire-ravaged Sapphire Coast.
Up to $5 million was injected into the local economy and a capacity 5000 crowd packed the home ground of Bega Roosters for the historic match.
With the Eels enjoying majority support, the crowd rose to their feet as rookie John Fonua scored with just seconds on the clock to level the scores.
Until the last minute try, it appeared that early errors would prove costly for the Eels in the opening exchanges, with winger Blake Ferguson unable to hold a pass with the tryline open and Mitchell Moses kicking out on the full.
Penrith halfback Nathan Cleary made the Eels pay when he crossed for the opening try in the 13th minute after stepping Reagan Campbell-Gillard and beating Clint Gutherson.
Match: Panthers v Eels
Round 3 -
Venue: Bega Recreation Ground, Bega
The Panthers had the chance to extend their 6-0 lead but centre Brent Naden dropped the ball over the line.
Moses initially appeared to have saved the try when he held up Penrith winger Josh Mansour after a cut-out pass from Jarome Luai but the former international managed to flick the ball to Naden.
Another error, this time by star winger Mika Sivo, gifted the Panthers another try in the 26th minute.
Match Highlights: Panthers v Eels
Winger Brian To’o scored in the corner after Penrith had shifted the ball quickly following Sivo’s knock-on from a rocket pass by Gutherson near the Eels line.
However, the Eels gained momentum before halftime and Moses sliced between two defenders to score in the 34th minute after Naden was penalised for impeding Ferguson from being able to contest a bomb.
The Panthers hit back after the halftime break when Mansour won the race for a grubber from five-eighth Matt Burton, who replaced Luai at the interval, to score in the 47th minute.
Cleary converted but Penrith’s 16-6 lead was short-lived after Moses chipped and regathered his own kick to score a stunning 50th minute individual try.
Eels hooker Ray Stone then levelled the scores when he dived on a fumbled in goal kick by Patrick Hollis to score in the 60th minute and Jai Field converted to put Parramatta ahead for the first time in the match.
Stone helps Eels grab the lead
However, Penrith rookie Brendan Hands regained the lead for his side in spectacular fashion five minutes later after bursting into space and standing up Eels fullback Will Smith.
With the clock winding down, Eels replacement Marata Niukore put John Fonua for a try with a late off-load and Field missed the conversion from the sideline.