First-up NRL disappointment

Matthew Elliotts debut as Vodafone Warriors head coach failed to go to script as a brief second half comeback was snuffed out by a surging Parramatta finish to Saturday nights first-round NRL encounter at Parramatta Stadium. Photo: Photosport.


While the Vodafone Warriors had given the Eels an 18-0 start in the first half, they responded by scoring two tries within a few minutes of each other to trail just 10-18 with 24 minutes to play.


There was more than a whiff of a momentum shift only for the Eels to check it and then launch a withering run which yielded four tries in the final 17 minutes, enabling them to run away with a 40-10 victory.


The outcome was a world removed from what Elliott and his players had expected following an arduous offseason programme and a trial victory against Brisbane two weeks ago which had provided encouragement.


The decision to rule out a would-be Thomas Leuluai try in the opening minutes was a blow to a side which started the contest well. Leuluai, playing his first NRL match since 2004, seemed to have scored a legitimate try only to have it ruled out on the basis Todd Lowrie had been deemed to impede Parramattas defence in the act of driving his team-mate over.


If that decision was a setback an even bigger one came in the 18th minute when the Vodafone Warriors lost their most experienced NRL back, winger Manu Vatuvei forced off with an ankle injury in his 153rd appearance. Having made his presence felt with two strong runs and a desperate try-saving tackle on his opposite Cheyse Blair, Vatuvei departed after Chris Sandow had scored Parramattas first try.


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While the Leuluai no-try call and Vatuveis absence were factors in the teams fortunes there were others, too.


The most telling could be found in the possession stats with the Eels having 40 sets to the Vodafone Warriors 29. In the first half alone Parramatta had 23 sets, the visitors just 15. The penalties also favoured Parramatta 7-2, the numbers worked to give the Eels an 18-0 halftime advantage.


Gaining respite from the break, the Vodafone Warriors had their best moments in the third quarter, not only thwarting the Eels but building pressure to ensure they were the next to score.


First Pita Godinet, injected from the bench, threw a sweet short ball for prop Jacob Lillyman to claim the sides first try of the season in the 51st minute. Shaun Johnson missed the conversion from a handy angle.


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And, after the Eels had a Sandow try disallowed on an obstruction call, another Vodafone Warriors try followed with Shaun Johnson and Kevin Locke combining on the left for centre Dane Nielsen to score in his first appearance for the club.


Johnsons conversion from wide out was superb, the Vodafone Warriors now back in it just eight points in arrears with 24 minutes to go.


Hopes of the recovery continuing were short-lived, though, as Parramatta went on a late rampage scoring four tries in the final 17 minutes, fullback Jarryd Hayne snaring a hat-trick.


Only Nielsen, Sebastine Ikahihifo who spent time on the wing and Lillyman carried the ball more than 100 metres on a night when the Vodafone Warriors had far too little possession. Defensive workloads were therefore at the higher end of the scale, hooker Elijah Taylor making 40 tackles, captain Simon Mannering 35, prop Ben Matulino 32 and Lowrie 31.


The Vodafone Warriors are due to arrive back in Auckland this afternoon, all eyes now fixed on the first home game of the year when the Sydney Roosters and the Sonny Bill Williams show come to Eden Park next Saturday (7.30pm kick-off).


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The Roosters are also coming off a loss, falling 10-28 to South Sydney in their first-round match on Thursday night.


Match details:


At Parramatta Stadium, Parramatta

Parramatta Eels 40 (Jarryd Hayne 3, Ken Sio 2, Chris Sandow, Matt Ryan tries; Chris Sandow 6 conversions).

Vodafone Warriors 10 (Jacob Lillyman, Dane Nielsen tries; Shaun Johnson conversion).

Halftime: 18-0 Eels.

Referees: Jared Maxwell and Adam Gee.

Crowd: 13,351.


Vodafone Warriors: Kevin Locke; Glen Fisiiahi, Konrad Hurrell, Dane Nielsen, Manu Vatuvei; Thomas Leuluai, Shaun Johnson; Sam Rapira, Elijah Taylor, Ben Matulino; Feleti Mateo, Simon Mannering (c); Todd Lowrie. Interchange: Jacob Lillyman, Sebastine Ikahihifo, Pita Godinet, Steve Rapira.


Top individual stats:

Most runs: 12 Dane Nielsen, Ben Matulino, Todd Lowrie, Jacob Lillyman, Sebastine Ikahihifo.

Most metres: Dane Nielsen 113, Sebastine Ikahihifo 113, Jacob Lillyman 110, Ben Matulino 96.

Most tackles: Elijah Taylor 40, Simon Mannering 35, Ben Matulino 32, Todd Lowrie 31.

Most tackle breaks: Sebastine Ikahihifo 4, Thomas Leuluai 3, Shaun Johnson 3.AAA