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Moses-inspired Parra prove they're finals contenders but Manly seething as Bunker lacks 'common sense' with no-try call

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24th March, 2024
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Here we go again, Manly and Parra. Any time either team went ahead, the gap would start to narra’.

In what was easily the game of the season thus far after three rounds, Parramatta emerged victorious just like they did in the classic beer commercial after they pumped them, bumped them, picked them up and dumped them in a 28-24 thriller worthy of any against-the-odds script for a TV advertisement.

Eels halfback Mitchell Moses is not fully fit due to a nagging injury but he was still able to conjure up a five-star display to lead his team to victory after conceding a 14-point lead early in the contest.

Manly have been talked up as potential top-four prospects after upsetting Souths and the Roosters in the opening rounds but Parramatta have now entered the chat when it comes to teams that could rival the big guns at season’s end.

With five-eighth Dylan Brown also back in peak form, Parramatta have one of the best halves combinations in the NRL and with prop Junior Paulo and fullback Clint Gutherson offering alternate points of attack, they have the variety to test even the best defensive lines.

Bunker ruffles Sea Eagles’ feathers

Manly were left fuming over a controversial Bunker call late in the match which denied them the chance to cut an eight-point gap to two when a Tolu Koula try was called back because of a supposed obstruction.

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Luca Moretti was supposedly “denied the chance to push forward” to tackle Tom Trbojevic in the lead-up even though the replays showed he had stopped moving towards the fullback as he sped through a gap.

Sea Eagles forward Jake Trbojevic, who was pinged for getting in Moretti’s way, was perhaps calling out something about the “ruck” when the Bunker’s verdict was handed down on the big screen.

Fox League commentator Corey Parker said Moretti was done and “he had clocked off” before being reprieved by the Bunker.

Greg Alexander said Trbojevic should have known not to stop in the line because the Bunker doesn’t use common sense.

“We don’t use commonsense in the Bunker. Common sense says that’s a try. Black and white, Jake stops in the defensive line, end of story.”

Eels fans will claim it was karma because the final pass from Tom Trbojevic to Koula was possibly forward although the star fullback looked to have put his hands well in front of his body to spiral the ball backwards as he ran at full tilt before copping a whack from Gutherson for his troubles.

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“I don’t think he was going to get there, but he played to the rules,” was Manly skipper Daly Cherry-Evans. 

Manly coach Anthony Seibold was measured in his response to questions about the refereeing.

“I need to be really careful what I say here but I think the management of the game changed a little bit there after 14-0,” Seibold said.

“I think they started to get some calls their way, some field position and possession and they’re a good enough side to take it.

“There were certainly some things we can work on but it was a fair game of footy right, both sides were in the contest.”

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Eels dig deep for RCG milestone

Celebrations for Parramatta prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard’s 200th NRL match were subdued after the death of his brother earlier this week and coach Brad Arthur said the team was united by the goal to put in a performance to make him proud.

Parramatta’s players wore black armbands as a mark of respect for their teammate’s tragic loss. 

“We were playing for Reg. He’s shown plenty of resilience the last couple of seasons and he’s had a lot of things not go his way on the field,” Arthur said. “He always puts his teammates first and today, we needed to put him first.

“It’s been tough, (the loss of) his mother and then his brother but he has never shied away from his responsibility for the team. We needed to repay him today.” 

Pendulum swings back and forth

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Manly made mince meat of the Eels early and after an early penalty goal, they went the distance when they spread the ball wide from inside their red zone for Reuben Garrick to sprint down the right flank before kicking inside for Tom Trbojevic to make it 8-0. 

They were ahead of the clock in the 12th minute when Daly Cherry-Evans and Luke Brooks combined to put Jaxson Paulo over in the corner, exploiting former teammate Morgan Harper’s defence out wide. 

A different Paulo changed the momentum of the match. Eels coach Brad Arthur kept Junior Paulo on the bench for the first quarter of the match and after Will Penisini had put the home side on the scoreboard by collecting a bomb, the NSW prop produced a perfect pass for Mitchell Moses to reduce the gap to two. 

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 24: Junior Paulo of the Eels is tackled during the round three NRL match between Parramatta Eels and Manly Sea Eagles at CommBank Stadium, on March 24, 2024, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Junior Paulo is tackled. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Paulo stood in a Ben Trbojevic tackle and offloaded away from Brooks’ clutches to send Moses over the stripe. 

His ability to absorb the impact of the tackle, spin and slip the pass to his teammate was top class from a player often described as a halfback trapped in a front-rower’s body.

The Eels hit the front in the 34th minute when debutant centre Blaiza Talagi scorched his way over for a try on debut. The former junior representative star crashed through a Tom Trbojevic tackle after he was on the receiving end of a slick scrum move to make it 16-14. 

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But the Sea Eagles struck back on the stroke of half-time when Garrick dummied his way past the scrambling defence after DCE possibly knocked on in the lead-up play. 

The pendulum swung back to Parra four minutes after the restart when Harper touched down in his first match against Manly when Dylan Brown floated a superb pass over the top. 

Kelma Tuilagi, after there were fears the previous week that he’d be out long term with a shoulder injury after a big hit against Penrith went wrong, put the Eels up by eight when he touched down against his former side, benefiting from Moses’ lightning quick hands to put him over.

After the Koula no-try, the Eels stretched out to a 28-18 buffer via a penalty goal heading into the final 10 minutes and when Corey Waddell carried a couple of defenders over in the 73rd minute, the Sea Eagles had a glimmer of hope.

But the Eels managed to hold out their retro rivals to show they can be finals contenders again this season after petering out to a 10th-placed finish last year.

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Paulo is a reluctant bench weapon but Arthur praised the NSW representative for his selfless attitude.

“I’m really happy how Junior is playing, and for the group, because of his attitude,” Arthur said.  “He wants to start but he’ll do what’s best for the team.

“He changes the course of the game for us and he’s done that two weeks in a row. He could’ve kicked stones, but he hasn’t, he’s been a great leader.”

with AAP

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