Almanac Rugby League – Loving The Locals: Wests Tigers v Parramatta Eels

Loving the Locals

Leichhardt life is a peach. “Why?” I hear you ask

To say that my wife, Ronnie, is a very committed Tigers would be akin to saying that Pope Benedict XVI is a very committed Roman Catholic. For mine though, where else is it possible to wed a café culture to the rough and tumble history of a rugby league heartland. Leichhardt. Perfect you might say.

And yet we must travel to Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs where at the Sydney Football Stadium “local boys” Wests Tigers will meet the recently maligned Parramatta Eels. It is a marvelous vantage point for rugby league – Sydney’s best, in fact. The truth is that I’ve spent many a league season watching nail-biting grand finals and state of origin games at this very venue. So, while its not exactly local, the trip is a worthwhile one.

Typically we arrive early and we find our seats three rows back from the edge of the western top deck precipice and three rows in front of the member’s bar. I down my first ever Maxibon and wash it down with a post-mix Diet Coke just for the taste of it!

The match-up is a collision of fortunes. The Tigers, arguably the form team of the premiership; the Eels, desperately unlucky in a series of competitive matches including 3 golden point conclusions for zero victories, go into this match perilously close to the wooden. The Tigers appear to be on the crest of a premiership wave to rival their 2005 effort while the Eels have already booked September in at Flight Centre.

Parramatta begin the match with a burst of possession and plenty of go from their hard-working forwards but then seem to lose their way when they arrive in try-scoring positions. A number of sets end with poor kicks or disallowed tries – many of those options made by Jarryd Hayne playing somewhat ambitiously at five-eighth.

In the 9th minute, Robert Lui bursting off a deep Benji Marshall pass, carves a swathe through the flimsy Eels defence to put Blake Ayshford over untouched. The Tigers arsenal are at their explosive best.

My wife is jumping up and down confessing/celebrating that she has a winning first try-scorer ticket – I’m thinking that I only hear about the ones she wins but she wins an awful lot!

The discipline of the Parramatta Eels is also concerning in this game. The Tigers receive a number of penalties to take pressure off their yardage game and it is off one of these piggy-back penalties that Benji ignites them again down the left side.

Chris Heighington offers a brilliant short pass to Dragons bound Tim Moltzen who is shot through like a cannonball before offloading to Utai for another 4-pointer.

5 minutes later Matt Utai “tunnel balls” onto Benji himself who throws the biggest dummy, swerve and step to score. In doing so Benji breaks the record for the all-time point scoring record for the Wests Tigers and the Tigers faithful go nuts.

The second half starts like the first with a glut of possession to Parramatta and this time they convert it through two quick tries to Ben Smith and Chris Hicks. The game is starting to look like one of two halves and its anyone’s.

However, the turning point arrives when Blake Ayshford shrugs off an ambitious attempt at tackle by Jarryd “the little engine that couldn’t” Hayne. I say ambitious because he made a low percentage attempt at a one-on-one strip and in doing so actually let Ayshford go! Ayshford runs the 40 metres required to notch up his second try for the day and an entry in the man of the match stakes.

I have a lot of respect for Jarryd Hayne as a marquee rep-level player but I don’t see him as the five-eighth solution at Parramatta. His execution of last-tackle plays and his ability to get his team going forward in attack seems very poor. He needs to be running with the football. Surely this off-season presents an opportunity to sit down with coach Kearney and the Billy Slater highlights reel.

In the meantime for the Tigers, September is looking very rosy indeed. They are currently my tip for the premiership and if they can snag it life in Leichhardt might get even sweeter; well at least for those who, like my wife, love the locals.

WESTS TIGERS 31 (B Ayshford 2 B Marshall B Ryan M Utai tries B Marshall 5 goals R Farah field goal) bt PARRAMATTA 12 (C Hicks B Smith tries L Burt 2 goals) at Sydney Football Stadium. Referee: Jared Maxwell, Chris James. Crowd: 18,626.

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