Just as we expected, the Parramatta Eels and Canterbury Bulldogs went to war in an old fashioned slugfest at ANZ Stadium, with the Bulldogs desperately holding on for a gallant 20-16 victory.
While the Eels toiled and scrambled and hung tough, they just could not quite get over the line. Something was missing in the clutch. Parramatta lacked the killer punch to steal the points from their fierce rivals.
Coach Ricky Stuart has already instilled a competitiveness, it was on show for all to see, but when they needed him most, superstar fullback Jarryd Hayne went missing.
Much like his coach in his playing days, Chris Sandow played like a man possessed.
The Eels’ line speed was exceptional, the forwards kept taking the ball over the advantage line and the backs helped out wherever they could. But where was Hayne?
Time and time again Hayne was caught out of position by the Bulldogs halves kicking game. When he finally did reach the ball, he sauntered back and continually hurt his tiring forwards. After all the hard work the Eels had done defensively, Hayne let them down.
He may have led his side to a grand final appearance in 2009 and many other victories since and there have been plenty of occasions where the Eels have let Hayne down.
Tonight he was the passenger.
Parramatta had every chance to win a gruelling encounter heading to the break only four points behind. But a scoreless second half would have coach Stuart wondering what happened to their execution throughout the second stanza.
Sandow was at his scheming best and constantly challenged the Canterbury line. Other than Sandow, the Eels struggled for structure and direction when the little halfback was out of the play.
When Hayne was called upon for something, for anything, there was nothing. And it wasn’t like the Bulldogs targeted the fullback for extra attention either. He simply refused to inject himself into the match.
Nonetheless, Stuart was happy with his team’s performance.
“It was a tough game of footy for round two,” Stuart said at the post match press conference.
“I’m a proud coach of a footy team. Everything I’ve asked for the boys are delivering.
“Some of our front rowers were tired but doing the extra efforts. Chris Sandow was outstanding.
“I’m prouder now than after last week’s big win.
“We’ve still got a lot of work to do, don’t get me wrong. But I’m a proud coach. “
Parramatta can take plenty of positives out of this kind of contest. Despite the loss, the Eels were back in a big match in primetime.
The Bulldogs might have been weakened by injury, but the Eels were still in the grind and they almost did it without their fullback.
“I was impressed with the way the boys grinded it out in the middle,” Hayne said.
“That’s what the best teams do.”
The best teams also have brilliant finishers with high work rates. If Hayne wants his fat new contract, he has to work a little harder than he did Thursday night.