A bruised and battered young Mortimer worked wonderfully for the Eels last night, combined with man of the match Jeff Robson – have dusted the Bulldogs and slipped amazingly into the NRL Grand Final.
In a game where the balance swung around like a wild bushmans axe, there were quite a few casualties – Patten skittled and sent to Disneyland, Cayless snapped a hamstring – it was a war of attrition. The Bulldogs were brave but the Eels can lift to a level no one can reach and while their opposition bullied them for periods last night Parramatta’s class won through. The Bulldogs had no more to give. With good reason, though.
Last night was the end of a magical five days of build-up and we had five minutes of madness to open it. The Bulldogs began like Brisbane did against the Dragons, led by a former Bronco in Ben Hannant, who in one of three tackles in the first set, did something no one has done for months – put Fuifui Moimoi on his back. It was a statement that was underlined and bold and it was in 24-point; it couldn’t have been much clearer.
On the first hit-up for his team, Bulldogs fullback Luke Patten wasn’t seeing anything clearly after being collected by an accidental Nathan Cayless knee, forcing coach Kevin Moore to shift Hazem El Masri to the back and Yileen Gordon to the wing. And we’re little more than a minute in.
After four, another unthinkable – the runaway Jarryd Hayne was stopped in his tracks. El Masri grubbered for his winger Bryson Goodwin and the Eels fullback struck the Bulldog with his knees. The Bulldogs had struck first blood, and the Eels’ best player had been potentially struck out of a grand final just a few minutes into the qualifier. Ditto Cayless, the beating heart to Hayne’s heat of this team. A pulled hamstring had him hobbling off and walking the green mile from the eastern side of the stadium to the tunnel on the opposite side.
Hayne, to his credit, dusted himself off after such an early shock and brought the Eels back into the contest. First, he kicked a 40/20, even if a somewhat controversial one after it bounced over the corner post. And then he had a quick think and a jink and sent Joe Galuvao over with a wonderful ball.
Hayne has been the electricity of this side and his assist certainly sparked them into action. They began to lift and it was the left which brought them most joy. Krisnan Inu and Luke Burt were marking Jamal Idris and Gordon, a combined 209kg on the Bulldogs’ right; both players big lumps of lads who don’t move like the quick-heeled Inu and Burt. But while the Bulldogs were stretched like a rubber band, they did not rip completely. The way the Eels began to assert authority, if Dogs coach Kevin Moore had a towel available that was not wiping his brow, he could have thrown it and called it off.
But the Bulldogs’ left edge ain’t that bad either, and with just four minutes remaining in the half, Ben Roberts’s grubber found Hayne dawdling slightly and Josh Morris was quicker to the ball against the run of play.
The game needed half-time because it was like a balloon inflating and it was about to blow. In the end, it was the Bulldogs who burst in the second half. The Eels dragged themselves off the canvas with tries to Burt and Tim Mannah within a quarter-hour of the restart, and when Mortimer finished off a frenzied movement they had their grand moment.
It was so fitting that these two teams fought out this game. Both had come back from their own adversity, the Bulldogs from the wooden spoon last season and the Eels from heading towards the same fate, but this year’s utensil, just months ago.
That will be some consolation for the Bulldogs, who have come so far. But one thing our game, this game, and this week has shown us is that whatever is around the corner, we can still be sure that when we wake up every morning, the sky will be blue. Or orange.
PARRAMATTA 22 (L Burt, J Galuvao, T Mannah, D Mortimer tries; L Burt 3 goals) bt BULLDOGS 12 (B Goodwin, J Morris tries; H El Masri 2 goals) at ANZ Stadium. Referees: Tony Archer, Ben Cummins. Crowd: 74,549.