The Parramatta Eels have moved back into the Top 4 and have proven their premiership credentials in an emphatic 25-point victory over a hapless Canberra Raiders, that saw the Green Machine do down 35 points to 10.
Ricky Stuart will be left scratching his head after his men failed to live up to the potential that so many pundits labelled them with heading into the 2021 season.
What should have been fierce competition descended into mediocrity for the Canberra Raiders on a cold night at GIO Stadium.
The signs were dire early, when new Parramatta recruit Isaiah Papali’i crashed over the line in just the second minute, off a Reed Mahoney short ball.
Down in the nation’s capital, coming off another big defeat to the Penrith Panthers, many Canberra fans would have been expecting a classic ambush from the Raiders.
Unfortunately for the 20 thousand odd fans in the grandstand, it would not prove so simple.
Despite the early setback, the Raiders hit back almost immediately, when Jordan Rapana slid over for a four-pointer of his own within five minutes of the first try.
Captain Jarrod Croker uncharacteristically missed the (sideline) conversion, but those watching at home seemed assured of the tight contest we were promised heading into the round.
The equilibrium would not last long, however, the two-point lead extended considerably when the Parramatta captain Clint Gutherson delivered a pass to cult hero Maika Sivo, who strolled over the try line all-too-easily in the 14th minute.
Whatever fortitude the Raiders’ defence came to the ground with was quickly fading.
Another twist in the tale was not far off though, when English hooker Josh Hodgson took off through the middle, combining with his fellow countrymen George Williams for a response for the Canberra Raiders less than 10 minutes later.
Two tries apiece and plenty of defence was the blurb for the opening 20 minutes.
At this point, ticket-holders would have been assured of value-for-money in what was shaping up to be a nail-biting affair.
It was a strong start for both teams but, unfortunately for the Raiders and their fans, that is all it would prove to be.
Nonetheless, both teams went into the sheds with two tries each and plenty to play for in the second half.
Whatever wisdom was extolled during the intermission, it would appear that Eels coach Brad Arthur delivered the more inspiring sermon, as Papali’i quickly notched up a second try barely five minutes into the resumption of play.
A revelation over the opening rounds of the season, Papali’i is quickly staking a claim as one of the best second-rowers in the competition and must be in consideration for Shaun Lane’s position, despite the gun forward claiming he prefers the middle in his post-match interview.
Even though the scoreline was close at this point, the Raiders never again seemed to threaten the Eels.
A rejuvenated and refocused side from last week, Parramatta did not execute a single offload in the entire first half.
Rather, the blue-and-gold defended stoutly and bashed the Canberra forward pack off the park.
When they weren’t barging through the middle, Mitchell Moses was solidly directing his team around the park.
The addition of Joey Johns to the Eels staff appears to now be paying dividends, with the much improved Moses competently fulfilling a complete halfback role – from kicking, to passing, to game management, Mitchell Moses now seems to provide.
Valient effort from Canberra would amount to little, as Shaun Lane, Reed Mahoney and Clint Gutherson all ran in late tries to seal the deal for the Parramatta Eels and rub salt in the wounds of a depleted and defeated Canberra Raiders.
All told, the Parramatta Eels looked every bit the Premiership hopefuls that, perhaps, a small portion of experts had tipped them to be, heading into the 2021 season.
The Canberra Raiders, however, appear to only have gone backward since their 2019 Grand Final appearance.
The return of Josh Hodgson, if anything, appears to have hamstrung their performance and Ricky Stuart will need to conjure some kind of miracle if they are to be contenders in the coming months.
Parramatta Eels 35 (Papali’i 2, Sivo, Lane, Mahoney, Gutherson) def Canberra Raiders 10 (Rapana, Williams)
NRL News Player of the Match
3 Points – Mitchell Moses (PAR)
2 Points – Isaiah Papali’i (PAR)
1 Point – Reed Mahoney (PAR)