The Parramatta Eels managed to outlast the battered Wests Tigers last night at the Sydney Football Stadium, getting home 26-18 in a match played in front of 35,000 fans.
It was certainly a semi-finals atmosphere, with the punters out to see a host of superstars do their things for both sides. The Marshall v Hayne show was on, there were round the back passes, chip and chases and everything in between.
The likes of Moltzen, Inu and Mateo also joining in the fan fare with classy touches of their own.
But behind all the glitz and showmanship, essentially it was a combination a few other components that saw the Eels win the game.
The Wests Tigers got on top early, but after losing in-form winger and NRL leading try scorer Taniela Tuiaki to a broken leg early on – they were not only without a strike weapon, but lost a valuable substitution position in such a high-paced game.
Then Beau Ryan was hurt on the opposite wing and soon after Tim Moltzen twinged his ankle to leave the Tigers very thin in terms of reserves.
Again on top early, the Wests Tigers were kicking the ball smartly to the corners, at times kicking for touch which all proved handy as they kept the ball away from the powerhouse Jarryd Hayne. They nullified Haynes kick returns early, but lost their way late in the first half when possibly fitness and focus went out the door. From Robbie Farah kicking on the full to rookie Louie kicking directly to Hayne and have the ball returned some 60+ metres at times on the Hayne carry. It was killing the Tigers.
The in-form Hayne was injecting himself smartly on the other hand. He took several kicks for touch, twice nailing a 40/20 for his side and taking plenty of pressure off Robson and Mortimer in the halves. Backing up Hayne, Mortimer too kicked extremely well and in most cases the chase was solid for the Eels.
It was talked about earlier this week on the Daily Telegraph ‘Buzz Blog’ – how important goal kicking is leading into the finals. Well Phil Rothfield was right for once, the old head picking a crucial point – with the Wests Tigers scoring the same amount of tries as the Eels but were only able to kick a single conversion. A problem that erodes confidence as the game wears on. Sheens needs to sort this out quick smart.
The Eels had some luck here, with first choice kicker Luke Burt getting hurt early and then having Kris Inu come into play. Inu kicking extremely well and taking plenty of pressure off his team.
There wasn’t a hell of a lot between these two teams, but boy do penalties change games. One man; ‘Bryce Gibbs’. He is good for at least 1 penalty every single game. Ok, so Gibbs was unfortunate to get himself muddled up and lead with the knees into stop the try. He can be forgiven for that. But following this, he gave away another 2-3 penalties and was lucky not to be sin-binned for laying on the player as the Eels busted the Tigers wide open late in the piece. Had Gibbs not stayed down injured, he was getting 10 minutes in the bin for sure.
Penalties cost the Tigers dearly in this one.
The Eels refused to kick for goal on several occasions which may have helped them close out the game earlier, however they did have enough points in them to get home.
Overall, a classic game with finals intensity. Both sides will be physically and mentally drained after this one and will need a complete refresh to get themselves on the front foot for next week. The Tigers face the Titans in Queensland and the Eels are at home to the Panthers.
Dragons v Broncos
It was the new revived Broncos up against old mentor Wayne Bennett at the Dragons home dome. Big Wendell Sailor referring to it as “Dells House”. The Broncos getting a massive upset win 12-2.
But it was a new look Broncos again last night, much tougher in their collisions, tighter in defence and smarter with ball in hand – the Brisbane side pulling off a big upset to firm their finals position with only 2 weeks to play.
While an arm wrestle in the early stages, the Broncos were able to skip away later in the match with St George Illawarra unable to break a rock solid defensive line given plenty of motivation by big man Sam Thaiday, the relative unknown rake Andrew McCullough and the much maligned Justin Hodges.
In the second term, on more than 3 occasions the wavering Dragons attackers were hammered back into their own in-goal region by a surging Broncos outfit. The 12-2 win for the Ivan Henjack coached side was a much needed victory for the away side, as the capacity stadium in Wollongong went home extremely frustrated.
In attack the Broncos kept their cards close to their chest with their 2 touchdowns coming from the unique tactic of running big man Dave Taylor on the fringes. The mobile big man virtually playing at centre – the motive; target little man Jamie Soward where possible.
They showed plenty of ticker the Broncos, and in most cases they outplayed their opposite man right across the park.
They also did it with a wounded bench, only 15 men remained, with Guy Williams and Josh McGuire left on the bench.
A loss last night and the sound of hooves chasing down the Broncos would have become thundering. Now the prey are looking like hunters again.
Brisbane made the finals for 16 consecutive seasons, a tribute to the strength of the club and the leadership of Bennett – strength and leadership little on display in the past two months as Brisbane slumped to some alarming losses. Over the same period the Dragons were banking points, tackling with sustained fury and winning plaudits as their attackers ran wild.
But momentum is a funny thing in football. As much as a loss against Canberra in the national capital to snap their seven-game streak might have been interpreted as a bonus for its effect of relieving the side of any delusions of invincibility, the well-oiled machine may in fact be misfiring.