In some of the worst playing conditions we have seen in years, the Parramatta Eels have held on to beat a gallant Cronulla Sharks 14-12 at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium this afternoon.
Sitting under an East Coast low, the ground became increasingly waterlogged as the game went on, with both sides doing well to complete a set, especially in the second half.
In these type of games, kicking games are paramount and so it proved today.
It was the Sharks who had the better of play in the first 10 minutes.
Though the Eels grabbed control with pinpoint kicking from Mitchell Moses and Dylan Brown leading to 3 repeat sets for the Eels in a 5 minute period.
In the 20th minute, with the Sharks defence rushing up, Dylan Brown dummied to go left and dived over next to the posts. Moses made no mistake and the Eels led 6-0.
The Sharks hit back just seven minutes later. A Moses kick was taken smartly by Matt Moylan who put Shaun Johnson into space, who spread the ball to the Sharks’ right edge.
Johnson then added to his try assist tally by putting a smart kick into the in-goal.
Jesse Ramien just beat Maika Sivo to the stationary ball and the Sharks were on the board.
Johnson’s conversion was pushed slightly to the right and the Eels led 6-4.
The Eels continued to force multiple restarts, helped by Nathan Brown in particular making dominant runs through the middle and giving Parramatta good field position.
However, the Sharks defence, sadly missing it’s intensity for most of the season, was much improved.
Despite the Eels having 57% of possession, the score remained 6-4 at the break.
As conditions worsened, holding the ball at your own end became crucial.
The Sharks were the first to make that mistake, with a poorly directed pass from Matt Moylan dropped by Ramien.
Off the ensuing set, Dylan Brown showed some impressive footwork to poke through the Cronulla line.
He got a smart ball away to Kane Evans who dived over, adjacent to the posts. Moses again converted and the Eels led 12-4 in the 46th minute.
The Sharks hit back quickly. With 50 minutes gone, Gutherson couldn’t handle a Johnson grubber and the Sharks had a set on the Eels line.
One set was enough as some smart work from Blayke Brailey at dummy half but Johnson in a bit of space.
His cut out ball to Ronaldo Mulitalo was not perfect but Mulitalo did well to juggle and get the ball down in the corner.
From the sideline, in horrendous conditions, Johnson hit his conversion sweetly but it hit the upright and bounced away. The Eels led 12-8.
A brilliant 40/20 from Johnson 5 minutes later gave the Sharks another chance.
They went right again and Will Kennedy chimed in to give Mulitalo a little space.
He stepped back inside, beat 3 Eels defenders and planted the ball down. At the 57th minute mark, it was 12-12.
Johnson could have been forgiven for his first two conversions but he needed to make this one, 10 metres in from touch. It wasn’t a sweet connection and sailed right.
Both sides then were able to force restarts but couldn’t convert. The match eventually turned in the 69th minute in bizarre circumstances.
The Sharks had the feed in the scrum and held the ball at the base of the scrum to try and force an offside penalty.
The Eels pack put on a push and won the ball against the feed.
The Eels went close to scoring before Braden Hamlin-Uele tackled Reagan Campbell-Gillard without the ball.
Moses converted the penalty beside the posts to make it 14-12 with 10 minutes to go.
That was the way it stayed. The Sharks had their chances but the Eels defence held strong and won 14-12.
Cronulla will feel it was the game that got away, scoring 3 tries to 2, going down 7-2 in the penalty count and being on the wrong end of some 50/50 calls.
However, the Eels played the smarter football in the closing minutes and will gladly take the 2 competition points.
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3 points: Dylan Brown. Brown scored a try and set up another. Other than that his kicking game was impressive, forcing multiple restarts along with Moses.
Moses’ injury a few weeks ago may well prove to be a blessing in disguise, with Brown not afraid to call the shots over his more experienced halves partner.
2 points: Nathan Brown. Brown was massive for the Eels forward pack, running for 221 metres.
He was the reason why the Eels had the better field position for the match.
1 point: Shaun Johnson. Johnson will be disappointed with his missed conversions but without him, the Sharks don’t score 12 points this afternoon.
His short kicking game, his 40/20 and work on the right edge was all class.