The Dyldam Parramatta Eels have posted a hard-fought 20-18 victory over the Newcastle Knights on Monday night at Hunter Stadium, with young winger Bevan French scoring one try and saving another in his NRL debut.
But while French took his opportunities on the field, the Blue and Gold struggled through injury for the win, as halfback Kieran Foran was forced from the field favouring his shoulder, and centre and stand-in playmaker Brad Takairangi left the field with a leg injury.
The Eels had opportunities early in the match, coming close from a cross-field kick on the left edge, and took just 11 minutes to crack the Knights defence and open the scoring.
A charging run from Semi Radradra up the sideline put the Eels within striking distance, and halfback Kieran Foran took on the line in front of the posts, coming close to the tryline. Five-eighth Corey Norman shifted the ball right to second-rower Beau Scott who stepped back inside the Knights winger to post first points.
With six again up their sleeves int he 18th minute, the Blue and Gold struck again, sending the ball left with a cut-out pass to Semi Radradra to land in the corner and put the Eels’ 10-0 up early in the piece.
Execution saw the Blue and Gold fall just short of the line more than once, while the Knights forwards put in a strong get in the 25th minute for Sione Matau’tia to find a gap on the right edge and barge over the tryline carrying Clint Gutherson with him.
A Knights intercept in the 28th minute got them back in the red zone, and second-rower Pauli Pauli was impossible to stop as he charged across the line for a four-pointer that put the Knights just two points off the lead.
With just four minutes left in the half, Foran was hit late from a pass and forced from the field favouring his left shoulder, leaving Takairangi to shuffle into the halves for the Blue and Gold.
In disarray, the Eels were blindsided as young winger Cory Denniss slipped through the line immediately afterwards, making 60 metres before being run down by Bevan French, but offloading to centre Nathan Ross to ground the ball and claim the lead for the Knights. The Hopkinson conversion sailed over, giving the Knights a 14-10 lead at the break.
Desperation was on show from both sides early in the second forty, as the defence muscled attackers into touch, or monstered them back in goal to force a repeat set. When the Knights drew a penalty in the 54th minute from a Beau Scott tackle, they put themselves further ahead with a penalty goal, and did so again when the opportunity arose for an 18-10 lead.
Winger Bevan French took his moment in the 59th minute, slipping across in the right corner to ground the ball and bring the Eels within just one try of the Knights. Gordon’s conversion went low and wide, leaving the scoreline sitting at 18-14.
Gordon added his own four-pointer from a snap Manu Ma’u offload to Takairangi, who found space and popped the pass to Gordon to beat two and score. Converting his own try saw the Blue and Gold take a 20-18 lead, in front for the first time in the second half.
A high tackle on Tepai Moeroa in the 68th minute saw Korbin Sims placed on report, and the Knights looked deadly more than once close to the Eels line.
In the closing 5 minutes, penalties came thick and fast from both sides for handling errors and play the balls as slippery conditions took their toll, and with just two minutes on the clock the Knights looked to have rolled over for a try, but the Bunker denied Nathan Ross, ruling held up by Bevan French.
The Blue and Gold held the Knights out in the dying seconds, claiming a hard-fought 20-18 win.
Second-rower David Gower was forced from the field in the second half for a head check, while Brad Takairangi picked up a leg injury early in the match and was eventually forced from the field for treatment in the 62nd minute. Halfback Kieran Foran left the field with a shoulder injury in the 36th minute, and did not return.
Eels – 20 (Scott, Radradra, French, Gordon. Gordon: 2/4)
Knights – 18 (Mata’utia, Pauli, Ross. Hodkinson: 1/3. Penalty goals – Hodkinson: 2/2)