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Parramatta have rebounded from defeat to the Bulldogs to produce one of their best performances of the year, downing the Roosters 26-16 at CommBank Stadium.
And the Eels had further reason to celebrate with Blues forward Ryan Matterson rejecting a lucrative offer from the Dolphins to re-sign for four more years.
The first half, in particular, was scintillating, with the Eels’ attack firing as well as it has at any point in 2022 and leaving the Roosters with no answer.
The second was equally impressive for the opposite reason, dominating the Roosters defensively and offering them nothing.
It makes it all the more confusing that Parramatta, who have lost to the Bulldogs (five days earlier) and the Tigers this year, can now add a dismantling of the Roosters to a list of scalps that already includes Penrith and Melbourne.
“It’s frustrating,” said Brad Arthur of the vascillating performance levels. “I don’t want to keep talking about it. “A couple of weeks ago on a five day turnaround we went out and played like that against Penrith, who have been the best in the last couple of years. It’s there and it’s in us.
We’ve got to have that killer instinct and drive to want to do it every week. That’s my job.”
Five first half tries, including one from Maika Sivo that will be right up there in the Try of the Year rankings, laid a platform that gave the Eels something to defend, and though they did not score a point after half time, it didn’t matter.
“I liked our second half better than our first half,” said Arthur. “I thought they could come extremely hard: they were carrying off the back fence in the second half and having a red hot crack.
“I was extremely happy with the second half, because we showed plenty of grit. They had some good possession.
“I thought the Roosters played really well. They came at us hard, especially in the second half.
“The boys prepare well every week, and we have to make sure that we don’t go to games thinking that we can rely on our talent. We have to rely on what we’re good at.
“We showed that tonight and we were close to the best version of ourselves. We have to do that every week and the talent will come off the back of it.”
After being bullied last week, Parra’s pack responded in style. Junior Paulo and Reagan Campbell-Gillard both topped 200m, while backrowers Isaiah Papali’i and Shaun Lane were a constant threat on the edges with hard-line running and frequent offloads.
On the back of the strong forward play, Clint Gutherson was at his best, while Sivo marked his return to first grade with a try and several typically bustling runs.
The Roosters might worry about how they let Parramatta get on top, but in truth, almost every team would have struggled to control opponents in the mood that the Eels were in before the break.
They were diminished, too, by the loss of both Butcher brothers to head knocks – the one suffered by Egan Butcher in the second half required him to be stretchered off – as well as pre-existing injuries to Luke Keary and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves.
The Origin implications of this game might run and run, too. Campbell-Gillard and Lindsay Collins are set to line up against each other again for NSW and Queensland next Sunday evening, but will have to overcome the judiciary first if they are to resume hostilities in Game 2 in Perth.
Trent Robinson refused to blame the men missing for the defeat.
“I don’t believe that it’s personnel, because whoever comes in should be able to do that job,” he said.
“I feel like it’s on executing the system and priciples that we want to apply. We haven’t been able to get that done as much as we would have liked.
“I felt like we dominated that second half. They were trying to kick into positions to try and hold that lead and we were coming after them.
“We didn’t have enough quality combination plays on the field position.
“We don’t need to be on their tryline, but we should have executed much more play for play type questions in the second half to at least grab another one in that 20 minutes to go into the last ten with game on. That was disappointing.”
This was one of the highest quality halves of the season from both sides. The Roosters struck first, with Joey Manu carrying in one hand to the line and slipping late to Joseph Suaalii, who dove spectacularly at the corner.
In a normal game, it was the sort of try that we’d all talk about, but it would barely scrape a top three of the first half.
Parra struck back almost immediately, and in style. They hit left, right back at Suaalii and Manu, with Gutherson putting Lane through a hole, from which he offloaded to Dylan Brown to stoop and score.
It was time for Sivo to wind up. First, he did what few have done this year and outjumped Suaalii, taking a clear aerial win, and second, when given the chance to run from his own end, went on a stormer that involving sitting a man as big as Manu on his backside.
From the field position he generated, the Eels struck right. Mitchell Moses went to the line, dropped Papali’i under and while he was temporarily halted by James Tedesco, he was not held and crawled over the line.
The left was next, and again it was Lane to the fore. He ran hard into the line, took a legs tackle and got the offload away to Gutherson for another. It was pure razzle-dazzle from Parramatta.
The scoreline might have got worse, with another storming move through the middle seeing a Ryan Matterson inside pass get Papali’i over the line, only for a forward pass to be called.
The Roosters finally got the ball back, and immediately did something with it. Sam Walker was the star, firing a hard, short pass to Sitili Tupouniua to sprint in from 40m out.
More than a few Parra fans pointed out that the ball was as forward as the Matterson one, but the Chooks’ try stood.
They needn’t have worried, because Parramatta were about to score one of the tries of the year, or indeed, any year.
They ran the ball on the last, sending it all the way from the left to the right and back again, with multiple offloads, eventually ending in the arms of Sivo for his first try since August of last year. 10 of 13 players had touched the ball in the move, several of them twice.
This was rugby league of the highest quality, and the attack remained unstoppable. Again on the last, Moses went short side and got Bailey Simonsson away, with the winger able to dump inside to Gutherson and on to Mahoney to end the half 26-12.
Whatever Parramatta paid DJ Havana Brown to perform at half time, it wasn’t enough: she had no chance going up against attacking footy this good. There had been seven tries and just five errors.
The second half showed little signs of slowing down. The Roosters took a leaf out of Parra’s book, running on the last on the shirt side and getting Suaalii free.
He scuffed an attempt at a kick, but got the member’s bounce that took the ball away from Brown and back to the winger to score.
The Roosters then lost another to a HIA, and it was one of the worst you are likely to see. Egan Butcher went into a tackle with Matterson but had his head in the wrong place and went straight into the Parramatta man’s hip.
To Matterson’s credit, he knew immediately what had happened and was able to assist his opponent. Butcher was stretchered off – joining his brother, who had already left with a HIA – and the Roosters were down two men on the bench.
Where both teams had completed near 90 per cent in the first half, Parra were happy to spoil and make themselves hard to beat, continuing to end their sets deep in Easts territory and turn the ball over in the corners.
One second half try – and that something of a fluke, given Suaalii’s skewed kick – was all that could be mustered.