Parramatta have edged tantalisingly close to their first finals appearance since 2009 with a highly entertaining, if scrappy, 17-16 win over Wests Tigers at ANZ Stadium on Sunday.
The inaugural Stay Kind Cup, supporting the Thomas Kelly Youth Foundation, was a frantic and end-to-end affair right through the 80 minutes.
The Tigers led 12-10 at one stage halfway through the second half on the back of three straight penalty goals despite trailing two tries to one, but their conservatism eventually proved costly as a 77th-minute Corey Norman field goal edged the enterprising Eels in front for a win that moves them to 26 competition points and possibly needing just two wins from their final six matches to seal a finals berth.
The offload count (15-14 to the Tigers), error count (17-9 against the Eels) and line breaks (9-2 to Parramatta) told the story of a match where discipline and completions took a back seat to off-the-cuff football.
The one blight on the game for the Eels was a knee injury concern for fullback Clint Gutherson.
Plenty of attention in the build-up was around Eels half Mitch Moses facing his former club for the first time but aside from receiving a couple of extra spicy tackles from his housemate and former teammate Luke Brooks he had a steady but unspectacular game.
It looked like being a potentially long afternoon for the Tigers when some enterprising play from the Eels saw winger Bevan French step inside the cover defence to score in just the third minute.
The Tigers squared up at 6-all in the 12th minute when fullback James Tedesco burst onto an Aaron Woods offload and streaked away to the corner, beating half the Eels team in the process.
The Eels continued to chance their arm and missed possible try-scoring opportunities when first Tepai Moeroa and then Corey Norman spilled chances near the Tigers line.
The home side edged in front 8-6 through a Tui Lolohea penalty midway through the half but the Eels continued to have the better of the chances and reclaimed the lead through flanker Semi Radradra in the 31st minute when a nice wraparound play was followed by a perfect Norman cut-out pass on the left edge. The 10-8 score saw no further change through to half time.
The early stages of the second half were marked by good Tigers defence and clunky Eels attack despite the blue and golds largely having the better of field position and the Tigers managed to claim the lead 12-10 on the strength of two more penalty goals midway through the half despite being down two tries to one.
An opportunistic one-on-one steal from Moeroa righted the ship as a nice Brad Takairangi run beat Tui Lolohea and sent a supporting Radradra bursting into space with the winger able to create a two-on-one situation to put Gutherson over for a try and a 16-12 lead.
The Eels looked to have gone further ahead when Siosaia Vave strolled through some sloppy Woods defence and French leapt over Tedesco to field a Norman kick but the Bunker detected a knock on in the lead up.
Instead the Tigers levelled up when Malakai Watene-Zelezniak leapt high over opposite number French to mark a Brooks bomb but a miss from a gettable conversion by Lolohea kept it tied at 16-all with just under 10 minutes to play.
The closing stages brought new meaning to the word 'frantic'; the Eels bombed a try when Takairangi marked a Norman kick and offloaded to Gutherson who probably should have gone himself but instead offloaded to French who spilled it with the line begging.
The Tigers then came up with lost balls of their own through awful offloads from Lolohea and then Woods.
Norman broke the deadlock with three minutes to play with a low, driving field goal that barely skimmed over the cross-bar.
Brooks missed with a tough chance of his own a minute later before an attacking Eels set saw them march downfield where a tripping penalty against Brooks on his former teammate and current housemate Moses officially ended the Tigers' chances.
Parramatta Eels 17 (French, Radradra, Gutherson tries; Gutherson 2 goals; Norman field goal) defeated Wests Tigers 16 (Tedesco, Watene-Zelezniak tries; Lolohea 4 goals) at ANZ Stadium. Half time: Eels 10-8. Crowd: 30,901.