Nick Tedeschi is the editor of The Footy Almanac: Rugby League, a new arm of John Harms' Footy Almanac. A number of different writers will be covering all of the remaining matches of the 2011 season. Please check it out if you are interested in quality and personal rugby league writing.
As the clock ticked towards half-time and the scoreboard showed nothing but two big donuts I thought to myself: “Thank god I didn’t sit up and watch this last night.”
Given regular Friday Night Football scheduling in the southern states sees matches telecast between the hours of midnight Friday and 4am Saturday morning, I’d taken the soft option and recorded the Eels vs. Roosters fixture for my Saturday morning viewing pleasure.
A risky play, you might think – no-one wants their delayed viewing ruined by hearing the score early.
Never fear, folks, this report is being written in the great state of Tasmania and down here, rugby league scores are less common than sightings of the island’s iconic carnivorous marsupial, or Thylacine.
The opening was characterised by handling errors and scud missile-like charges – in attack and defence – from Parra prop Fuifui Moimoi.
There’s little I cherish in rugby league more than genuinely reckless hit-ups. For mine, Fui’s first few charges were keeping in the spirit of Martin Lang, a man whose presence in rugby league I miss.
It took well over half an hour for the scoring to start at Parramatta Stadium.
To the joy of home fans it was winger Chris Hicks who celebrated game 200 with a well-taken try to complete a set that started with the most questionable of decisions from Luke Burt.
The veteran winger had let the ball bounce at his feet rather than marking a Roosters’ bomb aimed at the right hand corner.
Lucky for him it bounced back over the Roosters chase and with deft footwork and a slice of luck, Burt regathered and gave the Eels great field position, albeit still within their own half.
The ball shifted right through a couple of tackles before it found centre Ben Smith who stood up the outside defence and flicked the ball wide to the milestone man who dotted down in the corner to finally liven up the night.
Given the sweeping end-to-end movement that resulted in the Eels’ try, it was as if Burt felt compelled to remind viewers they were in fact watching the same match that had been characterised by dropped ball and errant passes throughout the first half.
He knocked on in-goal from the ensuing re-start but the Eels weren’t punished for the error. They turned in front on their home patch by 6-0 and were good value for the lead.
It was their Eastern suburbs opponents who’d flexed the most muscle to half time, pinning the Eels down inside their own half and through the boots of Braith Anasta and Mitchell Pearce managing to at least threaten the Parramatta line on a number of occasions.
Much-maligned five-eighth Jarryd Hayne – spending plenty of time roaming around full-back in defence – had tidied up a few times, either kicking the ball dead or flopping on the loose footy, on one occasion just in the nick of time as Roosters’ winger Justin Carney loomed up following another neat Anasta dribble.
Hayne’s first real action of the second half highlighted his attacking prowess, his solo try after 50 minutes a just reward for a 10-minute period dominated by the Eels.
Hayne skipped back inside the Roosters right side defence, kicked out of a tackle and ran the try in from 30m.
I know a lot of people who treat Hayne with disdain, but when he’s on it’s impossible to deny that what he brings to the table is electric and game-breaking.
Suddenly the ball was being given some air and the home crowd, obviously energised by their side’s 12-0 lead, roared to life.
The game felt looser, but nowhere near as loose as Shaun Kenny-Dowall’s pass into row-C, just when it looked like the Roosters had a genuine chance to strike back.
As omens go, this seemed an obvious one. The Roosters, clearly the better side during the first half, were now well wide of the required mark.
But when Jason Ryles scored with 13 minutes remaining the Roosters were back in it, albeit the finish was questionable and the try may not have been awarded if the video referee had been asked to adjudicate.
Doubtless the Roosters would need more minutes pressing the Eels’ line than they’d managed to conjure to that stage of the second half, but with the margin back within a converted try and the Eels’ packing a particularly poor golden point record in 2011, the visitors couldn’t be ruled out.
And nor could the Eels imploding in their bid to extricate themselves from wooden spoon favouritism.
Burt’s attempted drop-goal with eight minutes to play suggested Parramatta didn’t want to risk another dose of extra-time this week. And why would they, given their appalling record in the sudden-death stanza?
The Roosters’ increasing ability to find metres at will and break tackles suggested the Eels were in trouble.
And so it was when replacement back-row Brad Tackairangi flicked Burt aside and ran the last 10m home untouched. Anasta dobbed the conversion to tie the score at 12 with five minutes to play.
Now the game was alive.
Attack and defence from both sides was equally frantic and disorganised.
The Roosters spurned three field-goal opportunities, Hayne couldn’t collect and capitalise on a smothered Anasta drop and the final two minutes ticked past with neither side able to break the deadlock.
With 10 seconds remaining, Anasta had one more chance to snap the winning goal. Again he found the lunging forearms of a Parramatta player.
Four times his kicks were smothered in less than four minutes. The 80-minutes ended with the score at 12-12.
With a golden point period now confirmed, not only was the pressure mounting on both sets of players, it was mounting on me.
Had I set my recorder for long enough to capture the extra action? Would I get to see the final play in a match that started as nothing but tepid and ended in a rolling boil that had thoroughly sucked me in?
Luckily, for me and for the Roosters, it took just over 90 seconds to find the answer to both questions. Yes.
Anasta made it fifth time lucky, just clearing the head and raised hands of a charging Fuifui Moimoi, a man desperate to atone for the error he’d made in losing the ball early in the Eels’ previous set and gifting the Roosters primo field position for the drop goal attempt.
The Eels had dipped out in golden point – for the third time in 2011.
This won’t be a season to remember for the Eels and nor will it be for the Roosters who sit neatly mid-table and mediocre.
This match in particular, however, will probably live in the memory of players, fans and this correspondent for those last frantic minutes that turned a damp squib to dynamite and may also have consigned the Parramatta Eels to the cellar for the first time in almost 40 seasons.
Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images AsiaPac