NRL Finals: Defence gets Eels home

NRL Finals Week 1, 2007
Parramatta Eels 12 d NZ Warriors 10
By John Chelsea

The Warriors came out firing in the first half, an energetic and aggressive NZ side were driving the Eels back on every carry. Full of enthusiasm and buoyed by the massive vocal crowd, the Warriors had the early momentum. The Eels looking a little unstructured and shell shocked from the dominant Warriors defence, several times the Eels struggling on the final tackle – using 4 different kickers, kicking out on the full and not gaining any good metres from kicks.

Unfortunately for the Warriors, they simply couldn’t make the most of their early ball. A growing error count for NZ as they attacked on their own left wing, targeting the right side of the Eels line -aiming their plays at Eric Grothe Jnr and Ben Smith.

To compound the errors, the Warriors were a touch too eager – giving away several penalties to the Eels early through hanging on too long in the tackle.

The Eels defence remaining impressive early on, repelling all the Warriors raids and not giving away a single line break the entire first half. As the Eels got more ball, they started to grow in confidence – starting to throw the ball around and had some success on the left and right sides through second phase play.

Both sides got over the try line once, but both denied tries through knock ons – Todd Byrne missing a certain try for the Warriors but fumbling the put down and soon after Timana Tahu looked like he would steam over but lost the ball over the line.

The score remained 0-0 as the teams headed into the sheds at halftime, both coaches would have been eager to get to their troops – with it looking totally obvious; the first team to settle down and find their rhythm would go on to win the game. First points looking extremely valuable to the side that can get over the line the quickest in the second half.

The Warriors were the first to get the valuable prize, repeat sets allowing them to build pressure and kick for the wing of Patrick Ah Van. A precise cross field kick from Michael Witt setting up Ah Van to knock the ball back for Todd Byrne.

What was to follow was quite amazing. The Warriors building pressure beautifully and enjoying 5 miuntes of attack, camped in the Eels red zone. Set after set kept coming; the Eels dropping bombs, touching long passes and gifting the possession back to the NZ Warriors.

The attack looked certain to pay dividends, pure weight of possession setting the scene. The gap opened up on a late tackle play for Logan Swann, the big back rower looking certain to score and disregarding two unmarked men on his outside to burrow over. Desperate line defence from Parramatta bucking Swann sideways and enabling them to roll him over and hold him up.

The failure from the Warriors to score during their tonne of possession proving to ultimately be their undoing.

The Eels eventually got the ball, but still looked too predictable and slow at the play the ball to prove any problem for the uptempo Warriors. A couple of penalties were the only things that looked to be helping the Eels. Then out of no where, a Tim Smith short cross field kick was flicked back in the air from Brett Finch, Feleti Mateo diving on the scraps to score an opportunists try. Somehow with little ball and lacklustre attack the Eels touch down and shoot ahead by 2 points.

The style of game changed immediately. With the Eels ahead by 2 points with 14 minutes to go, the Eels were now enjoying quicker play the balls. For the Warriors, the clock was the enemy so they had to speed up their tackles. This released the shackles on the Eels, PJ Marsh and Mark Riddell running for big metres from dummy half and getting some huge forward rolls going for the Eels.

After some more ball at the Warriors end, PJ Marsh dropped a beautiful kick into the in goal for a flying Jarryd Hayne to score. The Eels shooting to a 12-4 lead and looking the have the game in their keeping now. Every try in the game up to this point coming from kicks, proving the quality of defence from both sides.

With minutes to go, the Warriors mounted some massive charges – McKinnon running for big metres and setting the play up for a desperate kick over the top from the Warriors. Rovelli setting up Todd Byrne beautifully and as Byrne raced to the line he turned the ball inside for Michael Witt – the Warriors pivot being tackled without the ball metres from the line. Todd Byrne probably could have scored on his own, but the decision to pass the ball saw referee Tony Archer go to the video referee to check the tape.

Video referee Bill Harrigan winning plenty of NZ friends by awarding a penalty try, the former first grade referee stunning commentators and players alike with his decision to award a penalty try. The try allowing Michael Witt to convert from directly in front of the posts and turning it into a 2 point ball game at 12-10. Bill Harrigan is known for his controversial decisions and his massive blunder in the video box will be a warning for all on field referee’s to be cautious about using Harrigan for decisions such as this. The blunder reflects poorly on the on-field referee – in hindsight Archer may have wanted to make the call himself considering it was a decision where the try line wasn’t breached – it certainly seems safer for on-field referee’s to make the call themselves.

The decision by the video referee proving more surprising; considering Jarryd Hayne was impeded as he scored from the Marsh kick only 10 minutes earlier. Inconsistently video referee Bill Harrigan only awarding a try and taking probably 10 looks at the tape to award it. If consistency was a factor – then this try probably should have been an 8 point try, due to Hayne being impeded and still getting to the ball. If this was the case, then the penalty try may have made more sense.

A big decision this week for referee’s boss Robert Finch, he will most certainly look at rubbing Bill Harrigan out for next weeks matches – a move that has to be looked at, considering the magnitude of this call and how it could have effected the chances of a finals team.

The Warriors took the call with open arms, lifting in confidence again and mounting a final 2 minute assault on the Eels to snatch a victory. The Eels only just hanging on and slowly carting the ball up to chew up the final minutes. The visitors getting away with a big away win and ensuring themselves passage to Week 2 of the finals.

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