Julian Vella reviews the final match of the opening week of the NRL 2021 Finals Series. Here’s how the game went.
Tries: Blake Ferguson (37, 47), Waqa Blake (9), Mitchell Moses (35), Will Penisini (76 – penalty try).
Goals: Mitch Moses (10, 37, 49, 77)
Tries: Enari Tuala (1, 52, 57), Hymel Hunt (24)
Goals: Jake Clifford (26, 53)
Player of the Year PointsEmbed from Getty Images
3 pts – Mitchell Moses (Parramatta Eels)
2 pts – Regan Campbell-Gillard (Parramatta Eels)
1 pt – Will Penisini (Parramatta Eels)
MATCH REPORTEmbed from Getty Images
If Newcastle were to cause a surprise upset they needed to start well against the more fancied Parramatta side, and they couldn’t have asked for a better result off the kickoff, as the Eels kicked the ball out on the full. After finding touch deep in Parramatta’s half, the Knights put together a good first set as star fullback Kalyn Ponga handled in consecutive plays, as he put winger Enari Tuala away for the opening try in the first minute of the match.
Whilst Parramatta couldn’t have started the match any worse, they quickly got into the swing of things and started to take control of the match, mainly on the back of their halves Dylan Brown and Mitchell Moses – who took on the Knights’ defensive line with their running games to strangle back the momentum of the match. The Knights’ outside backs have had plenty of issues this year, both in defusing kicks and leaking tries in defence, so it was no surprise when Parramatta scored out wide through Waqa Blake after a poor defensive read by the Knights’ right edge defence after Kurt Mann failed to claim a Moses bomb.
As Parramatta took the the lead 6-4, they seemed to have all the ascendancy, but against the run of play the Knights crossed next through winger Hymel Hunt. Newcastle spread the ball wide to Hunt, who collected a deflected pass on the right wing, he then ran past three poor attempted tackles by the Eels to gift the lead back to the Knights, despite Parramatta dominating the field position battle.
Newcastle had regained the lead, but it still felt like Parramatta were winning the physical battle despite their inability to convert that into points. But the turning point of the match was when Parramatta were attacking inside the Knights’ half; referee Ashley Klein called Knights’ prop Daniel Saifiti offside, but instead of making the tackle and giving up a Six Again, Saifiti pulled out of the line leaving a gaping hole for Moses to stroll through and give the lead back to Parramatta.
If Knights’ coach Adam O’Brien was disappointed at his side for conceding a try in the 36th minute, he would have been furious heading into the sheds, as the Knights gave up yet another try in the following set off the kick off. After a strong set, Junior Paulo spun in the tackle and offloaded the ball, giving the Eels a numerical advantage out wide: the ball ended up in the hands of three-game rookie Will Penisini who beat two tackles and produced a miracle flick pass to Blake Ferguson who crossed in the corner to give the Eels a 16-10 lead at halftime.
HALF-TIME: Parramatta Eels 16 Newcastle Knights 10Embed from Getty Images
Newcastle needed a good start to the second half if they wanted to forge a comeback in this match to save their season, and despite getting some early ball down the Eels’ end of the field, they failed to ice their sets and produce any points. On the back of some handling errors, and a string penalties and Six Again against them, the Knights’ defence folded, as once again their defence out wide let them down. Winger Tuala came rushing in for no reason, inviting Moses to produce his favourite ‘rainbow pass’ to find the veteran Ferguson unmarked and untouched in the corner.
Down 22-10, and their season slipping away from them, the Knights simply had to be next to score, and after a failed charge down from Will Smith gave the Knights an extra set, they were able to take advantage this time as Tuala made amends for his poor defensive read by chasing down a smart grubber kick by Jake Clifford to score in the corner. Clifford converted from the sideline putting the Knights within a single score of the Eels.
Whilst the match had lacked any controversial calls, the Knights were about to get a massive break from the officials. With the Knights struggling to bring the ball out of their own end, Kurt Mann took a hit-up where he was met by some fierce defence. A play later Saifiti dropped the ball under pressure giving the Eels great field position, but the Bunker intervened and gave a penalty for Newcastle for a Junior Paulo shoulder charge to the head of Mann a play before.
The Knights took advantage of their ‘good luck’ and kicked the ball down field; after a strong run from Suasoe Sue, Ponga took the ball at first receiver and delivered yet another delightful cut-out pass to Tuala who scored his second hat-trick of the season. Tuala became the first ever Knights player to score a hat-trick in a finals match as the Knights closed the gap to 22-20 with just over 20 minutes to go.
As both sides were out on their feet, the team next to score would undoubtedly be the winners, and with time running out controversy was about to hit the game again. With Parramatta attacking the Knights’ tryline, they spread the ball out wide on the last to Clint Gutherson; the Eels’ fullback attempted to kick the ball through for centre Penisini who was tackled without the ball by Tuala.
The play was referred to the Bunker where Grant Atkins controversially awarded a penalty try, despite the fact both Tuala and Ponga were within vicinity of the ball and also despite it appearing that Gutherson failed to make contact with the ball with his foot before it hit the ground. Despite all of this Atkins awarded a penalty try to Parramatta ending the Knights’ season, and sending Parramatta to a sudden-death match against local rivals Penrith next week.
FULL-TIME: Parramatta Eels 28 Newcastle Knights 20
to be advised
Match Review Committee
to be advised