NRL NINES FINAL: Johnson injured as electric Eels take tournament
Parramatta Eels 22 d. New Zealand Warriors 4
The Parramatta Eels came out firing, with top try scorer of the tournament Bevan French adding to his tally with a fantastic bonus zone try within the opening minute, converted off the boot of Corey Norman. Ben Matulino’s error 25 metres out from the Warriors line gifted Parramatta another set. Norman stepped up again wit a deft chip that didn’t end with points, but a handy line dropout that left the Eels in good stead to continue their assault – and continue they did, with a pass outside sending Radradra over for another try which remained unconverted. At 5 minutes in, the score was an imposing 11 – 0.
The Warriors have been slow starters all tournament, and all it took was a crafty step from former Sydney Rooster Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to put them back in contention, reducing the Eels lead to seven. Parramatta failed to be discouraged, emphasising their defence and forcing another line dropout, before conceding an error with concerning immediacy. Poor handling seemed contagious, with a knock on serving them the ball again, but no further points were scored before the break.
The kick off led to a messy contest for the ball and a Warriors knock on, and a collision between Johnson and Wells led to the star play maker leaving the field, in a development that will doubtlessly panic Warriors fans. The Warriors were spared immediate pain when a try went begging as the ball was spilled over the line, but again, supplied possession to their opposition again with poor ball security. In a further stroke of bad luck, Wells appeared to sustain a hamstring injury as he chased the ball upfield toward the in goal.
As Johnson prepared to return from a suspected corked thigh, Parramatta struck care of Toutai, with another try putting their dominance on the scoreboard beyond a bonus try. As errors mounted, Norman slotted another pass out to Radradra, a try only prevented care of an excellent one on one tackle causing the ball to come free in Parramatta’s third botched try within the fifteen minutes of game time.
A neat Norman offload in the sixteenth minute to a flying Cody Nelson, and it was all but over as he sailed into the bonus zone and converted his own work, with his teammates on the sideline already celebrating.
With a full time score of 22 – 4, the Eels and their fans had something significant to celebrate for the first time in the best part of thirty years. Since the departure of club hero Jarryd Hayne, there has been a great deal of pressure and expectation placed on Corey Norman. Norman had to take a gigantic stride forward and embrace leadership and exercise his confidence. In doing that over the course of this tournament, he has contributed significantly to bringing a trophy back to Parramatta’s home quarters, and given hope to the club and fans alike that a new era may be dawning for one of the NRL’s proudest clubs.
Man of the Match: Corey Norman
THE PATH TO THE FINALS
Semi Final 1
Parramatta Eels 17 d. Melbourne Storm 8.
Melbourne’s uncompromising defensive efforts quelled Parramatta’s early attacking attempts, forcing an error that very nearly handed them the first try of the match but for Ryan Morgan’s individual skill in holding them up over the line. The Eels showed their flair in the next set, making exceptional metres and keeping the fuss to a minimum, allowing them to post the first points of the match via Bevan French. Never discouraged, a runaway Richie Kenna hit back in the very next set for the Storm, leveling the scores at 4 apiece for half time.
Parramatta’s first set of the second half involved a great deal of side-to-side, and with few metres gained, Melbourne were set up perfectly to capitalise in the form of a Tohu Harris try. Some of the slicker passes of the weekend lined Bevan French up for a second shot at showing his speed, and without anyone within reach of him, he was able to plant a bonus zone try and conversion. A few messy looking passes couldn’t spoil an opportunity for an invigorated Eels side, with Semi Radradra crossing out wide and Norman handily managing to covert despite the troublesome breeze.
In an encouraging effort and result for Parramatta fans, their confidence has promoted them to a finals appearance in the tournament.
Man of the Match: Bevan French
Semi Final 2
New Zealand Warriors 22 d. Gold Coast Titans 4
The Titans managed to put on a scare early care of a sprinting winger, but the real spectacle was the showdown between the big men on the park. Warriors favourite Lolohea sparked their first points, spotting a gap in the defensive line and slotting Jeff Robson through beside the posts. Titans looked unshaken, but a perfectly ordinary pass was intercepted 30 metres out by a cheeky Jonathan Wright, and the Warriors were up by 10 points within a matter of a minute. A chance for The Titans went begging when a desperate pass from the sideline to Lachlan Bird was knocked on, and were crueller again by the try-scoring ability of Solomone Kata. Gold Coast’s Agnatius Paasi’s line break and sensational pass timing led to him scoring a try of his own on half time, going some distance to shortening the intimidating 16 point lead to 12.
The second half proved error-riddled for both sides, with no points scored until Tuimoala Lolohea pounced through a small gap in a fatiguing Titan’s defensive line with 40 seconds to go, ensuring the home side a berth in the final.
Man of the Match: Tuimoala Lolohea