The Parramatta Eels have come away with a convincing 26-6 victory over the Newcastle Knights at Maitland No.1 Sportsground in the Club’s pre-season trial tonight (Saturday 24 February).
Jarryd Hayne made his awaited return to the Eels in front of a sold out Maitland crowd but it was a Bevan French double and a halves pairing in control that saw the Eels come away with a victory in the hit out.
The home side struck first, thanks to a former Rooster connection, when half Mitchell Pearce had the Eels defence guessing before a string of passes found winger Shaun Kenny-Dowell diving over in the corner despite some desperate defence from fullback Bevan French.
The try was converted from the sideline by Kayln Ponga to give the Knights an early six point lead.
However it didn’t take long for the Eels to strike back, when they crossed on their first opportunity inside the Knights half.
The ball spread through the hands of the Eels right edge, and with the Knights defence rushing up on Jarryd Hayne, Mitch Moses popped a ball out the back to Bevan French who found Josh Hoffman out wide to dive over in the corner.
With every opportunity down the Knights half, the Blue & Gold threw plenty of questions in attack.
Halves Corey Norman and Mitch Moses had both edges firing but the Knights defence repelled the attacking raids from the Blue & Gold.
Deep from inside the Eels half, fullback Bevan French looked to spark an attacking raid when he sliced through some tiring defence midway through the first half. The fullback sliced through the defence and with just the fullback to beat, he swerved, stepped, swerved and stepped again turning Ponga inside out.
He looked to have set up Moses who was looming in support with a clear run to the line but a forward pass shut down the back.
With 13 minutes remaining in the first half, the Eels made their first handful of changes bringing enforcers Beau Scott, Suaia Matagi and Kane Evans all onto the field at the same time.
The impact paid dividends, as the side made its way down field. The ball shifted to the left with Moses and Norman combining, before a cutout ball from the five-eighth found winger Kirisome Auva’a crossing over out wide.
And with three minutes remaining in the half, fullback French chimed in again. Proving very elusive, leaving the Knights defence clutching at thin air, the fullback drifted across field before powering his way over the line.
The try was the final scoring play of the first half with the Eels taking a 12-6 lead into the sheds.
The Eels came back out for the second half with Head Coach Brad Arthur making a handful of changes. Hayne found himself at fullback moving French to right wing and Will Smith at right centre.
The changes looked to reap rewards early, when in just the 42nd minute the Eels found French crossing over out wide. A ball from Norman found Smith who put French into space to stroll over but an obstruction call overturned the original decision.
The Eels forwards looked to be on a mission with some heavy defence inflicting pain on the Knights who were continuing to cart the ball up through the middle.
In a near identical play to just 5 minutes earlier, Hayne found his way into the backline, shrugging off defenders before spinning and passing the ball to French to cross over out wide for his second try of the evening to give the Eels a 16-6 lead.
The Eels crossed again, this time through halfback Moses. The number seven had the scrambling and desperate Knights defence clutching at thin air as several left steps found his way under the posts for a converted try.
The Eels continued to pile on the pressure with another try off the very next set when Kirisome Auva’a made a break from inside his own half before finding speedster Michael Jennings in support who ran 40m to score.
With the Eels holding a 26-6 lead halfway through the second half, a handful of changes to the Eels line up saw Hayne, Jennings, French, Ma’u, Moses, Norman and King all sitting on the sideline.
The score remained unchanged for the final 10 minutes of the clash, despite the Eels best efforts to extend the lead beyond twenty points.
Parramatta Eels 26 (Tries: Bevan French (2), Josh Hoffman, Kirisome Auva’a, Michael Jennings, Mitch Moses; Goals; Mitch Moses 1/5, Corey Norman 0/1)
Newcastle Knights 6 (Tries: Shaun Kenny-Dowell; Goals: Kayln Ponga 1/1)