Parramatta’s wretched season went from bad to worse on Friday night with a 24-14 loss to an injury-weakened New Zealand Warriors at ANZ Stadium.
With just two wins from 11 games, Parra need a minor miracle to turn their season around and qualify for the finals. Last year’s top four finish is now just a distant memory.
The Warriors were without injured halfback Shaun Johnson, while fullback and captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck stayed home in Auckland, with his partner due to give birth to the couple’s first child any day.
The absence of two of their best players didn’t stop New Zealand from notching their eighth win from 11 games, keeping them on course for a top-eight finish that few predicted.
Leading 12-2 at half-time, New Zealand briefly fell behind 14-12 before finishing with two unanswered tries – the last of which by Issac Luke put the result beyond doubt with four minutes remaining.
The Eels enjoyed a territorial advantage for the opening 10 minutes and almost crossed through Beau Scott before settling for a Mitch Moses penalty goal for a 2-0 lead after seven minutes.
It took just three minutes for the visitors to hit back, with winger David Fusitu’a scoring a spectacular one-handed try in the corner. Mason Lino guided the sideline conversion over for a 6-2 lead.
A Lino penalty goal made it 8-2 minutes later before the Warriors went over for a second try, with Peta Hiku shrugging off a weak tackle attempt from Parra winger George Jennings and touching down in the corner. Lino narrowly missed the conversion but the Eels were behind 12-2 after 22 minutes.
The Warriors dominated the home side for most of the first half, playing deep inside Eels territory and starving them of possession.
They almost stretched the margin in the 27th minute but the Eels just managed to keep them out.
Parramatta finally got their hands on the ball again in the closing minutes of the half and were camped inside the Warriors’ end of the field.
Prop Isaiah Papali’i was sent to the sin-bin in the 34th minute after repeated infringements by the Warriors, but the Eels failed to capitalise, as the Warriors continually showed up in defence with several try-saving tackles.
Lino’s last-second field goal was charged down and New Zealand held a 12-2 half-time lead.
Parra grabbed the initiative with Clint Gutherson’s 43rd-minute try, trimming the gap to 12-8 with Moses’s sideline conversion.
Spurred on by their success-starved fans, the Eels continued to surge, locking it up at 12-12 with Manu Ma’u’s try. Moses made no mistake with the conversion to put his side up 14-12 with 19 minutes remaining.
But the lead was short-lived, as Jazz Tevaga pounced onto Blake Green’s perfectly placed kick to score beside the posts.
Lino’s conversion made it 18-14 to the Warriors – a lead they would not relinquish. Luke put a cherry on top with a powerful solo try.