The Parramatta Eels have overcome a second-half comeback from the Wests Tigers tonight to seal a top-four spot, with a 28-24 victory at Bankwest Stadium.
It wasn’t the Tigers farewell that Chris Lawrence and Benji Marshall had hoped for, with Marshall leaving the field, halfway through the first forty minutes, with an MCL injury.
The Eels scored first after great lead up play from Junior Paulo drew an offside penalty.
From the ensuing set, Mitchell Moses took it to the line before finding Clint Gutherson.
Gutherson’s catch and pass weren’t perfect but Blake Ferguson held on to the ball and put the Eels in front.
By the ten minute mark, the Tigers had drawn level.
Luke Garner was through the line after a great ball from Marshall.
From the next play, Marshall found David Nofoaluma who cut back inside and turned it back to Tommy Talau who scored in the corner.
Marshall left the field minutes later.
He had shown enough to ensure that other clubs will be expressing interest over the offseason.
With twenty minutes gone, a Will Smith kick forced a repeat set.
The Eels took full advantage, with a smart ball from Smith to Andrew Davey creating space for Maika Sivo who wasn’t going to be stopped at close range.
Somewhat against the run of play, the Tigers struck back just eight minutes later.
The Tigers got field position after a great ball from Harry Grant to Elijah Taylor led to an Eels drop out.
Luciano Leilua went from dummy half and planted the ball across the line.
The Eels struck a large blow just before half time when a Gutherson grubber got behind the defensive line and Brad Takairangi was first to arrive.
With Adam Doueihi struggling with his sideline conversions, Parramatta led 16-8 at the break.
Momentum in a game of NRL so often swings on possession, and so it did for the first twenty minutes of the second half.
The Tigers scored just three minutes in. Grant dummied left and went right to Doueihi, who was filling in at 5/8th.
His bullet pass to Talau was first class, and he beat Sivo to score his second try.
The Tigers levelled the score at 16-16 seven minutes later after Ferguson spilt a Doueihi spiral bomb.
Asu Kepaoa was on the spot and scored. From the sideline, Doueihi had missed all four conversion attempts.
Minutes later, a sweeping play left led to more points after Lawrence did well to draw Ferguson and get the ball to Kepaoa.
He sprinted downfield and passed inside to Brooks, who scored adjacent to the posts.
Doueihi appreciated the easier conversion and, after a penalty with twenty-five minutes left on the clock, the Tigers led 24-16. Parramatta’s hopes of a top-four spot seemed to be slipping away.
Possession started to turn again and it was Junior Paulo who started the comeback for the Eels with just ten minutes remaining.
He had proven a handful all night in possession.
An offload close to the line to Reed Mahoney created enough space for the Parramatta hooker and he dived over to bring the difference back to two points.
The Eels could sense they were again on top and it was no surprise when Smith dummied and crossed the line to edge the Eels in front, with seven minutes left on the clock.
The Tigers had a late chance, with a try-saving tackle from Gutherson on Luke Garner getting the Eels home.
Brad Arthur was happy that the Eels remained “calm and patient” through the Tigers onslaught and executed well when they held the ball.
With the Storm now looming on the Sunshine Coast in the finals, Eels coach Brad Arthur believes his side is prepared for them.
“It’s going to be a tough game of footy, they’re one of the better teams of the competition and have been for a long time,” Arthur said.
“I reckon the last 15 minutes probably showed that [we are better], we wouldn’t have been able to pull that back last year.
“It was a good test for us because they moved the ball side-to-side. We ran the ball strong, had plenty of support and played through the middle.”
NRL News Player of the Game
3 points: Junior Paulo was immense for the Eels tonight, Parramatta being noticeably better when he was on the field.
His strong runs and offloads led to Parramatta’s early lead before his pass to Mahoney got the Eels within reach late in the game.
2 points: Luke Brooks had one of his better games, with his kicking game strong with Marshall unavailable, and his passing game in the second half leading to a couple of tries.
1 point: Nathan Brown must be one of the most underrated players in the NRL.
He did it again tonight, clocking up 229 metres in a strong performance.