Almanac Rugby League – NRL Round 1: Eels v Warriors – A Fresh Start

New seasons are about new beginnings. As soon as Round 1 kicks off, the successes or failures of the previous year are temporarily forgiven, everybody gets a clean slate and nobody needs that more than the Warriors and Parramatta.

Both teams come in with new coaches, Parra with the intense Ricky Stuart, the Warriors with the mellow Matthew Elliot. These two new mentors have remarkably similar jobs, namely harnessing the immense talent they have at their disposal. On paper it’s an intriguing clash, the unpredictable skill and power of the Warriors against the unpredictable skill and power of the Eels. It’s a safe bet that there will be plenty of points in this one.

Not long after the commencement of play Thomas Leuluai, playing his first NRL game in a decade, muscles over the chalk, but is turned away by a questionable decision. The Warriors gift Parramatta field position, with boneheaded penalties the order of the day. But, just as it has been in previous years, Parra squanders the chances on offer. Cheyse Blair, who has given a new meaning to the term “he has hands like feet”, reaches out to score with one of those fancy one handed put downs you see so often these days, but the ball squirts out of his grip.

But no matter, soon afterwards, Chris Sandow steps and jinks and dummies and dives, and the much-maligned halfback scores in front of the old Brett Kenny hill. One of Sandow’s redeeming features in the pure exuberance with which he plays, and he howls with delight as he puts it down.

Sharp work from Reni Maitua and Luke Kelly put Jarryd Hayne over the line soon after, and you would scarcely believe that this is the same Eels team that played so poorly and were beaten so badly less than a year ago. The Warriors keep coming, and just before halftime Shaun Johnson dinks a kick over the top into the in goal. Cheyse Blair picks it up, and does a marvelous job to muscle his way back into the field of play. The Eels are revitalized, the Warriors demoralized. Ryan Morgan shows some crafty footwork, and Matt Ryan, a machine as big and as red as Clifford the Dog, puts the Eels up 18-0.

After halftime it’s more of the same. New Zealand punctuates ineptitude with occasional flashes of the brilliance they are capable of. Substitute Pita Godinet puts Jacob Lillyman over, and centre Dane Nielsen scores soon after. 18-10. The road is not so steep and the Warriors are storming home. But the Parramatta forwards, led by captain Tim Mannah and young bull Mitch Allgood, refuse to break. They drive it into the heart of Warriors territory. A defensive misread, some nice hands, and Ken Sio plunges over. The Warriors heads drop. This has become Parra’s new beginning. Theirs will have to wait.

The clock is winding down, the Warriors want to go back across the Tasman, lick their wounds and pretend this was just another trial, pretend that the clean slate still exists. But the Eels have been starved of points for a long time, and given the chance they will take as many as you’ll give them. The very next set Sandow cuts through and finds Hayne for his second. Hayne does his little “Hayne Plane” gimmick, and is mobbed by the boys. Then Maitua surges down the left, rolling down the field like the waves roll in at Maroubra, easy and free, and hello, Hayne has number three.

The nightmare is nearly over for the Warriors. Sandow goes for a tricky kick over the top with a few minutes to go, but Johnson cleans up. Instinctively, he flicks a pass, but it goes to ground. Parra pick it up and swing it wide, because why the hell not? The ball comes to Ben Roberts, and he has Sio wide. He rolls a kick through, and the bounce is perfect because it is a blue and gold day. Sio scores and thumps the Eels on his chest, and Parramatta relish this newest of new beginnings.

Parramatta 40 d Warriors 10

Nathan Hindmarsh Medal

3- Chris Sandow

2- Tim Mannah

1- Reni Maitua

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