With a lot happening off the field at the Parramatta Eels – including the ongoing salary cap talk and the recent Kieran Foran incident that has seen him address his personal issues and thus have time away from the game – on it, against rivals the Canterbury Bulldogs, they dug deep and fought hard to secure a 20-12 win.
In front of a crowd of over 31,000 at ANZ Stadium, it was the second time the Eels defeated the Bulldogs this season, in yet another gritty display from the blue and gold.
Injuries both pre-game and during the game resulted in numerous re-shuffles, with the absence of Kieran Foran resulting in Brad Takairangi playing in the halves.
On the field, the injuries also continued, with Tim Mannah (shoulder blade), Michael Gordon (corked thigh) and Danny Wicks (concussion) all off the field at one point.
Wicks did eventually return but for long portions, the Eels were forced to play with just one fit player on the bench.
It was the Bulldogs who burst out of the blocks, after they capitalised on some poor Eels defence out wide for Curtis Rona to score in the corner.
The Bulldogs almost had a second soon after to Rona, but some spirited goal-line defence managed to hold up the hulking winger when it mattered.
Many fans were left disappointed with the performance of the referees, who missed forward passes from both sides, with the Eels late first-half try clearly involving a forward pass yet it was not called.
The changes to the Eels side proved a downfall to begin with as players became accustomed to the roles but they fond their mojo as the game wore on.
The Eels first try came from a spectacular offload by Beau Scott close to the line, who then found Brad Takairangi storming through to score.
With the Dogs pressing hard for points as the game wore on, the Eels defence held firm as it has many times this season, restricting the Dogs attack.
Working hard for each other to win, the Eels team is not about excuses. Coach Brad Arthur knows in past weeks, they could have made some but they did not and fought hard instead.
“I’m very proud of our playing group at the moment,” said Arthur.
“There’s been ample opportunities over the last four, five, six weeks where we could find excuses if we really wanted to and again this week there’s a couple of excuses. At half-time there’s a couple of excuses if we really want to find them and it was a tough game.”
Arthur knew he had a decision to make and opted for Takairangi at five-eighth, a move which paid dividends.
“He’s been itching to get in there for a while. ‘Takas’ is a really good footballer, he’s got a good footy head. He kept it nice and simple tonight, he stuck to his strengths and it worked for us,” Arthur said.
Halves partner Corey Norman, who also enjoyed a quality game of his own, praised the efforts of Takairangi.
“He’s good, I thought he played out of his skin, he did his job and didn’t try too much. He played really well for the team and that’s what we needed from him,” said Norman.
Bulldogs coach Des Hasler was pleased with elements of his side’s performance but admits that their defence was soft at times.
“I thought we contained them pretty well in the first half, I thought we dominated pretty well, I thought we did pretty well in the first half and they didn’t make much metres,” Hasler said.
“Probably the try right on half time hurt a little bit, 12-6 to 12-10. We’re a little bit disappointed with the tries they scored. From our point of view, a defensive point of view they were reasonably soft tries.”
3. Brad Takairangi
2. David Klemmer
1. Clinton Gutherson/Corey Norman
Parramatta Eels 20 (Takairangi, Gutherson, Norman, Toutai tries; Gordon, Gutherson goals) defeated Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 12 (Rona, Morris tries; Holland 2 goals) at ANZ Stadium. Half-time: Canterbury 12-10. Crowd: 31,815.