The Dyldam Parramatta Eels have fought valiantly against injury in their 32-12 loss to the Bulldogs on Friday night at ANZ Stadium.
In a game where prop Danny Wicks made his long-awaited return to the NRL and his Eels club debut, Blue and Gold fans witnessed a triumph of determination over pain as Parramatta fought to stay competitive with a depleted bench and a reshuffled line up.
The night began with a ten-minute hell of perpetual defence as the Bulldogs were gifted eight back-to-back sets to dominate possession in the opening minutes of the game.
Brought undone by a rain of penalties including knock-ons and an offside ruling, the Eels defended valiantly, but the eighth set saw the Bulldogs finally take advantage of their long-term residence inside the Eels’ 20m line to spread the ball to the left edge and create an overlap for winger Curtis Rona to score in the corner.
There was little respite for the visitors, as stand-in five-eighth Moses Mbye landed a 40/20 kick to ease the Bulldogs upfield. New recruit Brett Morris was too elusive on the right edge, slipping through the Eels defensive line to take the Bulldogs’ lead to 8-0.
As lock Anthony Watmough was briefly taken from the field to have a cut to his knee stitched up, Isaac De Gois moved from the interchange bench to hooker, pushing Nathan Peats into the second row.
To add injury to interchange, halfback Chris Sandow was sandwiched in an awkward tackle and taken back to the Eels dressing sheds, leaving Joseph Paulo to step into the vacant halfback spot.
The Blue and Gold seemed undeterred, with fullback Will Hopoate denying an almost certain try for the Bulldogs, and Corey Norman putting in a perfectly-weighted chip kick to force a line drop out.
Sniffing opportunity, Norman swiftly batted the ball wide to Semi Radradra to score his fourth try of the 2015 season.
Centre Brad Takairangi followed up the Eels’ first points with a line break from deep inside Eels territory, offloading to winger Semi Radradra who was stopped short by the Canterbury defence.
The impact saw Radradra taken from the field via medicab, leaving the Eels’ two men short for most of the second half of the Round 2 clash.
Led by a tenacious defensive effort form their pack, the weary Eels pressed for possession right from the second kick off. Hitting Kasiano into touch early, Manu Ma’u slotted in at centre and led from the front to score in the opening minutes and tie the game up 8-8.
He made it a double, leaping onto a Corey Norman chip kick to score in the 45th minute, and backed it up with blistering cover defence.
Prop Danny Wicks was solid in forty minutes of game time cross the break on his debut for the club, while second-rower Tepai Moeroa was a defensive workhorse despite seeming hampered by a troublesome shoulder.
The home side began to fire thanks to a beautiful line from Sam Perrett to give the Bulldogs a 14-12 lead, and he was in pole position to score again as the Eels let a Moses Mbye bomb bounce, and the Dogs pounced on it for another four points.
Hodkinson managed just his second of four conversions to extend Canterbury’s lead to 8 points, 20-12.
On the back foot from a knock on early in their set, the Eels couldn’t keep Brett Morris from scoring his second try of the night in the 73rd minute, and while centre Beau Champion struggled with an apparent knee injury in the final four minutes of play, Bulldogs winger Curtis Rona snuck over the line to score a second try of his own.
While Sandow and Watmough both returned to the field in the second half after receiving medical treatment, Semi Radradra suffered suspected damage to his medial ligament and will undergo scans in the coming days. Champion left the field with under two minutes of play remaining.
Bulldogs - 32 (Rona 2, B. Morris 2, Perrett 2. Hodkinson: 4/6)
Dyldam Parramatta Eels - 12 (Radradra, Ma’u 2. Robinson: 0/3)