Parramatta handed the Vodafone Warriors another first-round reverse surging to a seven-tries-to-three 36-16 win in tonight’s first-round NRL encounter at Pirtek Stadium.
It’s the third time in four seasons that the Eels have given the Vodafone Warriors a sour opening weekend to a campaign, having also triumphed in 2011 and last year.
This defeat came only after the Vodafone Warriors had been right in the contest for much of the journey.
Having come back from a 10-point deficit twice in the first half to trail just 12-14 at halftime, they conceded two tries from bombs in the opening six minutes of the second half before drawing within eight points at 16-24 following Manu Vatuvei’s 50th-minute touchdown.
They couldn’t hang in, though, errors in possession at their end offering up opportunities seized on both times to enable Parramatta to burst clear and secure success under new coach Brad Arthur.
Earlier an eight-point try right on halftime gave the Vodafone Warriors every chance of influencing the final outcome.
With the break beckoning they were down by 10 points when they again attacked through their right side.
Fullback Sam Tomkins made an impact for Carlos Tuimavave to score. Rather than award the try immediately referee Adam Devcich wanted to check to see how Tuimavave had finished up with blood pouring from his nose.
The video referee soon established it had come courtesy of a Peni Terepo high tackle, the officials deeming a penalty would be awarded in front of the posts following Shaun Johnson's conversion attempt. Johnson duly kicked both goals, the Vodafone Warriors drawing to within two points after a half in which they had been forced to play the catch-up game.
There was drama from the first collision of the game when Parramatta prop Tim Mannah was left staggering after heavy contact – perhaps a head clash with Sam Rapira – and had to go off to be checked for concussion. Later the returning Will Hopoate was also dazed but was allowed to stay on.
The contest was only four minutes old when the Eels went to a loaded left edge, creating space easily for giant winger Semi Radradra to race away for the first try of the match. Corey Norman’s conversion made it 6-0.
A run of three straight penalties handed the Vodafone Warriors a flow of possession. They set up for a shot at the line through their right edge, Glen Fisiiahi stretching to get the ball down but having it denied on inspection by the video referees.
A score-line that might have been 4-6 or even 6-6 was almost immediately transformed into a 10-0 lead for the Eels as they went downfield, used their left edge again and created a try for Parramatta’s special hero Jarryd Hayne (although there was a major question mark on the final pass).
The Vodafone Warriors returned the favour, again going to their right with NRL debutant Tomkins influential to create room for the ‘Flying Fish’ to score. First the referee ruled no try but the video referees found there should never have been a question at all about the touchdown giving Fisiiahi his ninth NRL try.
Johnson’s conversion was just away but at 10-4 the Vodafone Warriors had some reward.
The recovery job was almost immediately undone, though, when Parramatta right winger Vai Toutai scored in the corner with a few millimetres to spare. Norman’s attempted conversion was well astray leaving Parramatta 14-4 ahead after 20 minutes.
The Eels swept back downfield when Hopoate made a long break after swooping on a loose ball. He didn’t have the pace to go all the way, the Vodafone Warriors scrambling on defence as they did on numerous occasions in the first half. There was no question their defence was keeping them in the contest.
Having worked their way back into it, the Vodafone Warriors immediatley let their position slip in the opening moments of the second half. A last tackle bomb saw the ball ping-pong around, finish in Radradra’s arms and he went over having the try authenticated by the video referees.
The Eels went to the air again three minutes late, Tomkins couldn’t get a clean shot at it and the ball was shifted to Radradra who was in for his third try. Or was he?
It was tentatively awarded as a try but sent upstairs to be checked. The video evidence suggested the big winger had been expertly prevented from getting the ball down by the combined efforts of Fisiiahi and Jayson Bukuya. Somehow the video referees didn’t see it that way, the try was rubber-stamped and the Eels were out to a 12-point lead at 24-12.
Vatuvei hadn’t seen much ball come his way with something on. At last he did in the 50th minute, ploughing through defenders to get the ball down for his 119th career try. For whatever reason Devcich wanted the video officials to check this one as well. Johnson couldn’t convert and the margin was 16-24.
The Vodafone Warriors needed to stay in the grind and they dodged a bullet to stay in contact, Hayne penalised for a double movement getting the ball over the line.
When the Vodafone Warriors turned possession over again not far out from their line there was no reprieve. Nice hands swept the ball right and Toutai had a simple stroll in to stretch the lead to 28-16.
Another turnover coming out of defence and the Vodafone Warriors were unable to defend the error, a third try laid on for Toutai. With the conversion the Eels were 34-16 ahead and the Vodafone Warriors were headed for yet another first-round defeat.
There was time for Parramatta to cause some more damage with a penalty to go to a 36-16 lead
Now the Vodafone Warriors face a grim trip home tomorrow (Monday) to prepare for their first home game of the season against St George Illawarra at Eden Park next Saturday night (5.00pm kick-off).
While the Vodafone Warriors have to regroup and analyse their first-round disappointment, the Dragons will come to Auckland buoyant after dismissing Wests Tigers 44-24 at ANZ Stadium earlier today.
At Pirtek Stadium, Parramatta
Parramatta Eels 36 (Semi Radradra 3, Vai Toutai 3, Jarryd Hayne tries; Corey Norman 2 conversions; Joseph Paulo conversions, penalty).
Vodafone Warriors 16 (Glen Fisiiahi, Carlos Tuimavave, Manu Vatuvei tries; Shaun Johnson conversion, penalty).
Halftime: 14-12 Eels.
Referees: Adam Devcich and Henry Perenara.
Vodafone Warriors: Sam Tomkins; Glen Fisiiahi, Dane Nielsen, Carlos Tuimavave, Manu Vatuvei; Chad Townsend, Shaun Johnson; Sam Rapira, Nathan Friend, Ben Matulino; Jayson Bukuya, Simon Mannering (c); John Palavi. Interchange: Jacob Lillyman, Suaia Matagi, Sione Lousi, Feleti Mateo.