Rugby league is often a game of two halves and the Parramatta Eels 24-16 win against the Brisbane Broncos was just that.
On the end of some recent batterings from the Eels, the Broncos, who were wooden spooners in 2020, had plenty to play for. To prove themselves again.
And that is what they did. They burst out of the blocks and capitalised on numerous Eels errors to set the ascendancy early in the game.
It was veteran winger David Mead who showed that he still has try-scoring touch when he opened the scoring.
After a breakdown in defence on the Eels’ right edge, Mead cut back inside, evaded defenders, and strolled over to score.
It was then the Anthony Milford and Xavier Coates show, who combined for the next two tries, both eerily similar.
Milford took the line on in both occasions and floated a pass over to Coates who finished acrobatically on both occasions.
Unfortunately, on the second occasion, his aerial exploits saw him land awkwardly and he was visibly shaken and in distress.
Leaving the field with a HIA, it was later established that Coates went to the hospital for scans on his neck.
“It’s a tough physical sport and tonight Xavier and John came off worse for wear,” Brisbane Broncos coach Kevin Walters said.
“There’s some big concerns for both of them and their short-term injury diagnosis looks pretty grim at the moment.
“We’ve got to learn to play with adversity. Certainly having three injured is not ideal.
“I feel really proud of our guys just hanging in there.”
To compound their woes despite leading at the break 16-0, Matt Lodge, who was set for a big season, left the field with a hamstring strain.
In the dumps, the Eels half-time team talk was apparently calm and assured and they came out in the second with some renewed vigour.
Led by Isaiah Papali’i and Reed Mahoney, the Eels duo carried the team on their shoulders in different ways to get back in the contest.
Mahoney scored the Eels’ first try when he burrowed over from dummy half to get fans excited.
Just a minute after, from a fortuitous deflection of Mead’s hand, Ferguson tip-toed his way down the sideline.
His clever kick infield then found Captain Courageous, that being Clint Gutherson, who scored at the posts.
As the Eels continued to assert their dominance, they would hit the lead through veteran winger Blake Ferguson.
No near-year-long waits this time, as an acrobatic finish despite being crowded by several defenders saw him break his duck for 2021 early.
A tough sideline conversion put the Eels ahead 18-16.
Try as they might with their fighting spirit and down to just 14 men, the Broncos could not muster their attacking arsenal to pressure the Eels.
In the end, it was telling, when Mahoney took the line on and delivered a lovely short pass for Junior Paulo to bustle over.
Although they lost, the Broncos showed plenty of heart to kickstart their 2021 campaign.
Needing a spark, Eels coach Brad Arthur felt that Papali’i kickstarted the Eels momentum and praised his herculean efforts.
“He’s been a real find for us,” Arthur said.
“He’s a great kid, works extremely hard is very professional.
“I really enjoy coaching him.”
NRL News Player of the Game
3. Isaiah Papalii’i (PAR)
2. Reed Mahoney (PAR)
1. Jake Turpin (BRI)