Patchy Eels surge late to beat Panthers, 26-18

Eels beat Penrith Panthers NRL Rugby league CUA Stadium 2008Referee Ben Cummins has put in the worst referee performance in recent NRL memory tonight, the match official coming up with some absolute howler calls for both sides as the Eels held on late to beat the Panthers 26-18 at CUA Stadium.

Cummins angered supporters from both camps with some outrageous calls, leaving fans and commentators alike scratching their heads and eventually resulted in a local fan throwing a missile at the referee at the end of the game. Cummins’ intentions were clear from the outset, with the match official blowing 4 penalties within minutes of the game starting – immediately getting supporters and players on the back foot in a horrible performance for the young referee.

Robert Finch and the NRL simply have no choice but to bench Cummins from first grade next week, not only for the benefit of the game but for his own safety after fans began to fume at the decisions that were made.

Somewhere at CUA Stadium tonight there was a game of football being played, the patchy Eels eventually clicking for a 5 minute period to blow Penrith away after the home side had looked the better with ball in hand.

Penrith led 14-6 at half-time, but were swamped by a resurgent Parramatta in the second half, despite the Eels having five players backing up from Friday night’s City-Country match.

The visitors also lost winger Eric Grothe to concussion at the break, but laid on four tries in a sparkling 10-minute period to turn an eight-point deficit into a match-winning 12-point lead.

Backrower Nathan Hindmarsh led the Eels’ rearguard, scoring the try that ignited their four-try burst in the 50th minute in a 39-tackle, five-star performance just 24 hours after playing for NSW Country.

Half-back Brett Finch also impressed after representing Country, while full-back Luke Burt celebrated a milestone night after becoming only the second Eel, behind club great Mick Cronin, to score 1,000 first-grade points.

The win snapped a worrying three-game losing streak for the Eels, with coach Michael Hagan hoping it would act as a springboard for the season.

“I think it was getting to the critical stage for us,” Hagan said.

“I still think the team has a lot to look forward to … and I think we’re capable of stringing a few wins together.”

The win was not without its controversies however.

Panthers backrower Nathan Smith was denied a try close to half-time after Cummins ruled he had been held up over the line.

Panthers hooker Luke Priddis then looked to have scored an amazing length of the field try shortly after half-time following a 90-metre break from winger Michael Gordon, only for Cummins to call the play back for a 20m re-start after ruling Gordon had caught a Brett Finch kick in his in-goal.

Gordon had one foot in goal and one foot in the field of play as he jumped for the ball.

Elliott said both were “massive calls” against his side but, while admitting they changed the game, refused to blame the decisions for the loss.

“I think they (Parramatta) got some tough calls too,” Elliott said.

“I think the officials will be disappointed with their performances tonight, from where I was sitting there were a few calls and a few no calls … that stood out for me as being not what they would have liked.”

Elliott also branded as “disgraceful” the time it took video referee Graeme West to award Panthers skipper Petero Civoniceva a try in the first half.

West looked at up to a dozen replays over several minutes after being asked to rule on a possible double movement before finally awarding the try.

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