The Parramatta Eels’ quest for redemption was cruelly denied by the South Sydney Rabbitohs at Pirtek Stadium on Friday night.
Having been stripped of their points to date, but cleared to score points again after meeting the salary cap (see report at end), the Eels need to win almost every match through the rest of the season just to make the finals series.
Going into round 10 Eels coach Brad Arthur was upbeat despite the enormity of the challenge. But it took just 85 minutes for the South Sydney to dump a bucket of cold reality on Parramatta.
Rabbitohs winger Michael Oldfield scored first with a try in the 12th minute and Adam Reynolds slotted a penalty goal in the 18th, but then the Eels, fired up by the turmoil of the past two weeks, ran riot. Semi Radradra scored a double before the break, crossing in the 27th and 36th minutes, then Vai Toutai went over in the 40th to put the Eels 14-6 ahead at half-time.
When Radradra completed his hat-trick just three minutes into the second half – 20-6 – Eels fans must have been thinking that finals spot was a definite possibility. But within minutes the tables turned.
Kirisome Auva’a crossed in the 47th and Reynolds converted, to claw the score back to 20-12. Souths, led by some inspirational effort from Sam Burgess, built from then on, putting their stamp on the game, though with little reward for the next 25 minutes. Luke Keary then delivered a perfect cut-out pass to put Bryson Goodwin over – 20-16.
Parramatta, thoroughly rattled by their change of fortune, had no answer in the dying minutes when Greg Inglis showed he was back to his sparkling best, goose-stepping then ploughing through three defenders to deliver an impossible offload to Bryson Goodwin, who put Keary over to level the score at 20-all. The pressure was on Reynolds, who had to kick just five metres from touch as the booing Parramatta supporters willed the ball to miss. But Reynolds made no mistake, slotting the ball perfectly between the posts to shatter Parramatta’s comeback dream.
To be certain of a finals spot Parramatta will now have to win 12 of their next 14 games.
Storm shade the Cowboys in Brisbane thriller
The Melbourne Storm came away with two points – and second spot on the ladder – after a tight battle with the North Queensland Cowboys in front of a packed house at Suncorp Stadium.
The Cowboys drew first blood in the 4th minute: Gavin Cooper went over for a try after Storm winger Suliasi Vunivalu couldn’t hold onto a Johnathan Thurston bomb. The Cowboys continued to press and added two through a penalty goal but were unable to get past Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Tohu Harris. Then in the blink of an eye, the tide turned and the Storm crossed twice within five minutes. Tohu Harris was the beneficiary of a pass from Smith, and Kevin Proctor snapped up the ball when Lachlan Coote fumbled. Smith converted both tries to put the Storm ahead 12-8 at half-time.
Smith extended the lead by two with a penalty just after the restart, then Michael Morgan went over for the Cowboys off a perfectly held up pass by hooker Jake Granville in the 54th minute, putting the sides level at 14-all. Smith was first to attempt to break the deadlock with a field goal in the 71st minute, and nailed it. The Cowboys pressed hard but were unable to shake the Storm, recording just their third loss of the season.
The Dragons beat Canberra Raiders 16-12 in extra time
St George Illawarra prevailed, narrowly, in a Kogarah Oval game marred by the lack of lights at one corner, creating problems for both sides. Dragons forward Tyson Frizell opened the scoring in the 17th minute as he charged over in the darkness from close range. The return of Benji Marshall sparked the Dragons’ attack, making the Raiders’ defence look ragged.
Ill-discipline and errors cost the Raiders too many penalties. In the 50th minute Widdop took the two points and gave his team a handy 8-0 lead with 30 minutes remaining. The Raiders finally scored in the 55th minute through a try to winger Jordan Rapana in the corner. The Dragons responded in spectacular fashion, the ball passing through the line until Jason Nightingale delivered a slick flick pass for Tim Lafai to score in the corner. The Raiders recovered, locking things up in the dying stages with a try by Jarrod Croker taking the game into golden point.
The Raiders hopes rose when Rapana counter-attacked off a missed field goal attempt by Marshall, but were dashed again when Euan Aitken intercepted a pass from Jack Wighton to score the match winner for the Dragons in the 85th minute.
Salary cap solution sees Parramatta lose Nathan Peats and Ryan Morgan
The NRL announced on Thursday that Parramatta is now salary cap-compliant, clearing the way for the team to start accumulating points again in a bid to make the finals series this season.
The team had to shed hooker Nathan, centre/wing Ryan Morgan and the injury-plagued heavyweight Anthony Watmough to get under the cap. Watmough’s departure was the cornerstone of the plan to cancel the $570,000 salary cap breach; he had already suffered a season-ending injury and his future at the top level appeared bleak.
Peats, who was snapped up on an 18-month deal with the Gold Coast Titans, was philosophical about his departure:
“There was two that fit the criteria, that are on enough money to get under the cap so they can play for points – myself and Corey Norman. You’re not going to get rid of Corey Norman because he’s one of the best five-eighths in the comp at the moment and I fit the bill. That’s how it is; it’s a business,” he told Nine.
He is expected to play for the Titans in Monday night’s game against the Sydney Roosters. – Jesse Mullens
Photo shows Rabbitohs forward Tom Burgess putting pressure on the Parramatta defence. NRL photo from the South Sydney club’s website.