The Dyldam Parramatta Eels Under 20s side has lost a final-minute nail-biting preliminary final against the New Zealand Warriors, 29-26.
After a valiant fight-back from a 19-6 deficit at halftime, the Eels kept their heads to dominate the second half, until the dying minutes.
It was an erratic start to the game, with the first tackle after the Warriors’ kick-off seeing the Eels caught in goals, but Ryan Matterson grabbed a ball as it was being played by the New Zealand side to return possession.
The Warriors had all the momentum early on, with prop Sam Lisone opening the scoring by burrowing to the line in the 13th minute, with Mason Lino converting.
Lino was in a hurry to score again, feeding a great pass to Adam Tuimavave-Gerrard two minutes later to set up a try, with a successful conversion putting the Warriors further in front.
The Eels began to get some possession, with the Warriors’ knocking on a fifth-tackle kick to set the Blue and Gold up in attack.
Vice-captain Zach Dockar-Clay didn’t waste any time, dummying and stringing along three defenders to get to the line and open the Eels’ scoring, with Nathan Davis adding the extras.
Lino continued to star for the Warriors, with a massive solo effort to score a try through a gap in the Eels’ defence, extending their lead to 12 points.
The Eels maintained pressure, with a successful captain’s challenge seeing a knock-on call against centre Fabian Goodall overturned, but the following attacking play was narrowly unsuccessful before the tryline.
A field goal saw the Kiwi visitors ahead 19-6 at halftime.
The Eels started the second half with more composure than the first, with a penalty in the 45th minute seeing the side earn some possession, and Davis flicked an incredible pass to John Folau who scored on the right edge.
Just minutes later Ryan Matterson was denied a try by the video ref, but continued pressure earned a repeat set where Lavaka scored an incredible try, plucking a Dockar-Clay chip kick from the sky and planting it in the corner.
The Eels were denied another try by the video referee, with Davis ruled to have knocked the ball on off the fifth tackle kick, but the boys kept the pressure on.
Kelepi Tanginoa revved himself up and picked up a quick pass from Matterson, and scored a big try left of the sidelines.
Davis, having previously missed two sideline conversions, didn’t miss from out in front and put the Eels ahead for the first time in the game.
Josh Aloiai sealed the deal with a big run to score a try right under the posts, with Davis’ conversion putting the Eels further ahead.
But it wasn’t to be, with the Warriors’ Kurt Robinson scoring a late try to put them back within reach.
With just 17 seconds remaining, Tui Lolohea managed to pull a rabbit out of a hat and scored a try right under the posts, putting them ahead in heartbreaking fashion.
NZ Warriors 29 (Robinson, Lolohea, Lino, Lisone, Tuimavave-Gerrard tries, Lino 4 goals, 1 field goal)
Parramatta Eels 26 (Tanginoa, Lavaka, Folau, Dockar-Clay, Aloiai tries, Davis 3 goals)