A brilliant performance from hooker Reed Mahoney has helped Parramatta grab back top position on the NRL ladder in a tight 10-4 win over a sloppy and disjointed Newcastle Knights outfit at McDonald Jones Stadium.
Not even returning to their beloved home ground in the Hunter for the first time since round one in March was enough to inspire the Knights. Maybe the hard-fought 14-12 win over the Sea Eagles at Lottoland a week ago had taken too much out of their systems.
On the other hand, the Eels were no picture of perfection either.
It was Parramatta's messiest win since edging out the Bulldogs 8-2 in round one, but it allowed them to leap-frog Penrith back into the number one spot on the Telstra Premiership ladder.
Brad Arthur's men were a shadow of the side that has dazzled and delighted fans in their previous seven victories this year. But despite 14 errors, five penalties conceded and plenty more set-restarts given away, the Eels have maintained their unbeaten run.
Newcastle did have to suffer a cruel finish.
A somersaulting Tex Hoy grounding a Kalyn Ponga kick just inside the white line with just four minutes left on the clock looked like being the match-winner. But replays showed the 19-year-old was ahead of Kalyn Ponga, when he sent a deft grubber kick into the in-goal.
However, the Knights looked as disjointed in attack as the Eels and hadn't done enough earlier in the match to earn the win.
Unsuccessful captain's challenges from both sides in the final minute of play highlighted the desperation by each side.
Match: Knights v Eels
Round 9 -
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle
After a gritty first half, the second saw the standard of football drop off a fair bit.
Both Pasami Saulo (Knights) and Dylan Brown (Eels) were sent for concussion assessments after a head clash not long after the break.
With the Eels chief playmaker off the park, it was time for the Knights to strike. But they weren't having much luck trying to crack the Eels defence. A couple of forward passes didn't help.
A penalty goal to Clint Gutherson 20 minutes into the second half were the first points since the break.
The Eels had their chances too. Reed Mahoney running from dummy half to score was disallowed because of foul play from the Knights in the play the ball, leading to the Gutherson goal. Second rower Shaun Lane knocked on trying to ground a cheeky Mahoney grubber.
Finally in the 64th minute Gutherson used the guile he's known for and caught the Knights napping with a quick tap following a high-tackle penalty on Mitchell Pearce.
Gutherson raced 35 metres and passed left to Maiko Sivo for the winger's ninth try of 2020.
The Knights should have had more points since they were camped in the Eels territory for more of the first half and the early parts of the second, but execution let them down on a few set drills, and the Eels defence was cement-like.
Mahoney sends Matterson over
In fact it was the visitors who scored the first points, when Ryan Matterson latched onto a pass neatly held up by hooker Reed Mahoney following a repeat set forced from Mahoney's boot. The 22-year-old was at his ever-present best igniting attack then pulling down players in defence.
The Nambour product seemed to be winning the face-off with the Queensland Origin incumbent No.9 Andrew McCullough.
But close to halftime McCullough burrowed over managing to ground the ball through three Parramatta players. The hooking contest will have given Maroons coach Kevin Walters some food for thought.
Eels centre Waqa Blake was placed on report for a heavy hit that forced Ponga for a first half HIA, with Ponga first attempting – and missing – a penalty kick from the infringement before being removed for a test.
One bright light for the Knights was the return to first grade of Tautau Moga in his first NRL game since round 22 in August last year after he tore his right ACL in April 2018.