The Parramatta Eels have gone down 20-6 to the Cronulla Sharks in their first home game of the season at ANZ Stadium in Round Four of the NRL Telstra Premiership tonight (Saturday 25th of March).
Matches between the two teams are commemorated as the Johnny Mannah Cup and a minute’s celebration was given to the player that ran out for both teams in his career.
The first ten minutes of the game saw limited opportunities, but returning half, Corey Norman, tested the Sharks early with some dangerous kicks and Frank Pritchard, savouring his first chance in the starting line-up, rattled the Sharks early.
A dropped ball from Andrew Fifita in the 8th minute gave the Eels a chance, but a forward pass in the ensuing set ended the opportunity.
In the 10th minute, Sharks hooker Jayden Brailey collected an offload from Matt Prior, followed by another from Andrew Fifita to Wade Graham and Brailey returned to score under the posts for the Sharks which was converted by James Maloney.
A kick out on the full from the resumption gave the Sharks another chance to attack, but a smart read from Bevan French saw a chip kick defused on the line and a solid set from the Eels followed.
Minutes later, a darting run down the right edge from Clint Gutherson saw him pass to Bevan French who danced around several Sharks, but was unable to find a way through.
Attacking errors from the Eels saw their defence tested and it was a lost ball from Beau Scott that lead to Sosaia Feki scoring after cutting in field from a Ricky Leutele pass and catching the Eels defence on the hop. The James Maloney conversion saw the Sharks ahead 12-0 at the 30 minute mark.
The Eels threw everything at the Sharks for the last ten minutes of the half and were rewarded right on half-time. Corey Norman’s grubber towards the in-goal ricocheted off Ricky Leutele into the waiting arms of interchange player, David Gower who scored his third career try.
Gutherson claimed the extras and the half-time score of 12-6 to the visitors was reflective of an error-prone 40 minutes.
The second half started with rare completed sets from both teams before the Sharks piggybacked down the field thanks to a penalty followed by another right in front of the posts which was converted to two points by James Maloney.
The Eels attempted to hit back minutes later as Frank Pritchard launched himself at the Sharks try-line. Solid Sharks goal-line defence caused him to lose the ball, however.
James Maloney was lucky not to concede a penalty after an apparent high shot on fullback Bevan French, but a relieving penalty two tackles later gave the Eels a big chance to attack the line. Another lost ball on the left side for the Eels saw the play diffused.
Back to back penalties saw the Sharks take on the Eels line successfully as Paul Gallen offloaded to Maloney who reach over to score the Sharks third converted try and a secure a 20-6 lead.
Both teams were guilty of poor handling and conceding penalties for the next twenty minutes. Neither team could effectively attack the line or get repeat sets. The Sharks, to their credit, were tackling hard and frustrating the Eels attack with Paul Gallen and Wade Graham leading the way.
Parramatta Eels debutante, Siosaia Vave put in a strong effort in the second half and Corey Norman tried hard, but ill-discipline and handling errors frustrated the players and the crowd of 17,003 people.
The Eels had one last chance with a rare repeat set in the 75th minute following a strong set of six, but failed to capitalise from the ensuing drop-out.
No further points were added to the score and the Sharks retained the Johnny Mannah Cup in a physical but scrappy game.
Parramatta Eels 6 (Try: David Gower; Goal: Clint Gutherson 1/1)
Cronulla Sharks 20 (Tries: Jayden Brailey, Sosaia Feki, James Maloney; Goals: James Maloney 3/3; Penalty: James Maloney 1/1)