The Eels took one straight from the grinding handbook, holding on for anÂ ugly win over the luckless Dragons. With St George Illawarra doing everything but score tries, it was the Eels thanking their lucky stars and probably Jason Ryles for keeping them in the game. The maligned DragonsÂ forward turning the ball over at three crucial times, to let the Eels off the hook in a close game at ANZ Stadium.Â
In front of a 16,500 mothers day crowd – the Eels moved their home game to ANZ Stadium hoping to attract and house a larger home following given the history between the two well followed clubs.
The Eels basically capitalised onÂ all theÂ Dragons’ misfortune and mistakes to secure their first back-to-back wins of 2008, a Brett Finch field goal in the 74th minute handing them a vital 19-12 lead.
Saints outside backÂ Matt CooperÂ touchedÂ down in the 79th minute afterÂ collecting 1 of 5 Beau Scott charge downs, butÂ his sideÂ couldn’t pull off a miracle to steal the game in the final seconds.
â€œThat’s our first official roll of the year, two wins in succession,â€ said Hagan.
â€œI still think we are a work in progress, we know that we need to improve next week and in the coming weeks but we are still healthy, we have got some players in pretty good form and a bit to look forward to for the rest of the year.â€
The Eels were up 12-6 at the break, the half time result not without controversy after a 50/50 call from video referee Steve Clark, upon first look it did seem like a loose carry from Eric Grothe – but ultimately Matt Cooper did slash at the ball and his fingers did look to have a ‘raking’ motion about them.
It was a horrorÂ situation for the Dragons, virtually from the ensuing set – the Eels raced down field for Nathan Hindmarsh to bust the line and setup Luke Burt in second phase toÂ go in forÂ 12-0 scoreline.
Even referee Sean Hampstead understood the significance of the situation, remarking â€œthat was a hard decision, Clarkyâ€ as Burt lined up his conversion attempt.
Cooper was adamant he did not strip Grothe in the tackle, the Dragons upset Hampstead was about to award the try only to send it to the video ref after protests from the Eels.
â€œIn my eyes it was a fair tackle. I think there should be some onus on the attacking player to hold the ball,â€ said Cooper.
But Dragons coach Nathan Brown refused to blame the referee, saying his players’ poor defensive effort on the ensuing play cost them victory.
â€œOur response to the no try was poor. We had three minutes off and they scored from the next set,â€ he said.
â€œIf they don’t score after, we win the game. So that definitely wasn’t the referee’s fault.â€
Early in the second half the Dragons suffered another near-miss, but this time it was their own fault as Soward made a break but ignored inside support from unmarked Mark Gasnier to instead pass to lock Stuart Webb who was dragged into touch by Joel Reddy.
The Eels pounced immediately, scoring off their next set with Brett Finch drawing Gasnier out of the defensive line for Jarryd Hayne to score untouched for an 18-6 lead.
Proving it just wasn’t the Dragons day, Soward grabbed an intercept off a loose Daniel Wagon pass in the 46th minute and had a free passage to the line only to fall over on the slippery surface.
â€œWe were a bit unlucky, Jamie Soward took an intercept and fell over. Sometimes you’re just not supposed to win,â€ Brown lamented.