The Eels were left to rue the game that got away as they went down 18-20 in heartbreaking fashion to the Dragons at WIN Stadium.
Parramatta dominated possession in the opening 20. Two errors on the goal-line wasted opportunities while the Dragons took the customary 2 when given the chance. It proved vital to the final result.
The game was broken open by an unlikely source in Tim Mannah. With a right foot step he ran past 3 defenders to break into open space. Bevan French received the ball in support for the first try. Minutes later, the Eels took advantage of a poor defensive read on the goal-line. Hunt misread numbers and Nathan Brown was sent through a gap for a 12-2 lead.
A crazy sequence of passes, kicks, knock-backs and offloads produced the Dragons first try to Matt Dufty. That bit of razzle dazzle saw the Dragons go to half-time trailing by 4.
Some slick work from Clint Gutherson sent Jarryd Hayne crashing over the line to open the scoring in the 2nd half and they were able to defend their 10 point lead up until the last 8 minutes of the match.
Following a line break from Dufty, Aitken scored off a Hunt grubber reducing the margin to 4 again. The following set, Widdop put in a grubber of his own which was pounced on by Dufty under the posts, consigning the Eels to another loss.
Eels find a way to lose
When a team has only lost 3 games all year, they tend to get used to winning while a team that has only won 3 games for the year does the opposite.
The Eels were the better team for 72 minutes but in the theme of their season, they found a way to lose. They weren’t able to shut down plays when it mattered and the winning try saw David Gower the only Eel in position to cover the kick.
Brad Arthur expressed those thoughts in his press conference “It was outstanding from the boys tonight. I thought we were the better team but it is probably why we are sitting last at the moment because we managed to lose that game”
Hunt backs up with a mixed performance
If Ben Hunt was out to prove a point after Origin, he was struggling to find the mark. Many of his kicks were deflected off attackers, he conceded a try and made a few errors.
In the end though he delivered when it mattered most. With the game on the line, Hunt went for the exact same grubber on the 3rd tackle that he did in Origin. Proving it was the right idea but wrong execution on Sunday night, the kick worked in his favour this time.
Rep round fatigue
Before rep round started, coach Mary McGregor thought about playing half his reserve grade side in this match to rest his rep stars. That didn’t happen but it was clear some were feeling burnt out. The break from Mannah saw him run past Graham and De Belin, both of which were coming off tiring performances in rep round.
With the benefit of no injuries, McGregor has the flexibility to manage his roster’s workload. Over the coming weeks a few of his star players could be given a week’s rest.
Silver lining for Eels
Despite a disappointing loss, the Eels can find positives in the performance. Their effort and determination in defence was much improved from what they have shown throughout the season. They were quick to rush up and put pressure on the halves, giving the Dragons little room to move.
They couldn’t maintain it for the 80 minutes but there were signs they’re capable of playing with intensity and a strong attitude. The season is gone but they can still restore a little pride to finish the year.
Tries: Matt Dufty (36m, 76m), Euan Aitken (73m)
Goals: Gareth Widdop 4/4
Tries: Bevan French (24m), Nathan Brown (31m)m Jarryd Hayne (47m)
Goals: Clint Gutherson 3/3
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