It was an unexpected set of home fixtures for the Eels Junior Representative teams when their round 8 matches against the Steelers were transferred from Wollongong to Kellyville on Saturday.
With a healthy crowd of local supporters in attendance, the players responded with spirited displays in each of the games.
Tarsha Gale Cup
The high standard of this clash was exemplified in the first fifteen minutes when the Steelers repelled wave after wave of Eels' attack.
After absorbing the Eels' early pressure, the physicality of the opening exchanges finally took its toll on the visitors when Parramatta prop Ruby-Jean Kennard powered over between the posts for the first try of the match.
At this stage it appeared as if the Eels would overwhelm their opponents, but the Steelers were up to the task with tenacious defence. Though Parra’s forwards were dominating the middle, the Illawarra players kept turning up to deny what appeared to be certain try-scoring movements.
Unfortunately for the Steelers, Eels half Rosemarie Beckett produced a stunning strike with just ten seconds left in the first half.
After playing out the back for the entire opening half, Beckett went to the line with the ball in both hands and the defenders held off on her, wary of the option to fullback Debbie Doueihi. In that moment, the clever half-back read the hesitation and knifed through for the try.
If the Steelers were disheartened by the Eels late first-half try, it didn’t show in their first set after the break.
An attempted Eels charge down, followed by a penalty, gave the Steelers repeat sets in the Eels half of the field. The home team appeared to be defending strongly, until they wrongly anticipated a big shift on the last tackle.
Illawarra’s dummy-half Salma Nour caught Parra’s defence completely unaware by having a crack herself, diving over from close range. After just five minutes of the second half, the visitors had reduced the lead to four points.
The response from the Eels would be swift and it came courtesy of an Illawarra error from the kick-off.
Back on the attack, a centring charge from Kyanna Lokeni was quickly followed by a run from Beckett that finished just short of the line. Katalina Vave then jumped in to dummy half and powered her way through the ruck defenders for the try. Alysha Bell’s conversion restored the Eels ten-point lead.
Momentum was all with the Eels and the Steelers compounded their previous kick reception error by kicking out on the full from the re-start.
Parra immediately made them pay with a terrific shift to the right. Five-eighth Tallara Bamblett put the ball on a platter for her powerhouse centre Petesa Lio, who exploded through the line before throwing a great final pass for Alysha Bell to cross in the corner.
This would be the prelude to one of the best conversions seen in Tarsha Gale Cup.
Kicking into the teeth of a howling wind, Alysha Bell drew rapturous applause from the crowd when she absolutely nailed the kick from the sideline.
Both sides then settled into an arm wrestle, and it would be the Steelers who were given the final shot at scoring. A late string of penalties put them on the attack in the Eels quarter. With a couple of Parra defenders laying injured near the ruck, the ref let play go on and the Steelers took advantage to dive over from dummy half.
The 22-12 victory has lifted the Eels to second place on the ladder with one round left to play. They’ll be taking on the Raiders at New Era Stadium next Saturday.
Eels 22 (Tries: Ruby-Jean Kennard, Rosemarie Beckett, Katalina Vave, Alysha Bell Goals: Alysha Bell 3) defeated Steelers 12
Harold Matthews Cup
The Eels were looking to consolidate a finals berth in their critical Harold Matthews Cup match against the Illawarra Steelers, and a strong start was central to their plans.
A positive mindset provided the platform for that start as the Eels got on the front foot early. After a penalty put them in the Steelers quarter, the Eels hit their right edge, before a centring play had Kobi Hurford link with a charging Sam Tuivati for the first try.
Play was then held up for a significant period following a serious leg injury to Illawarra’s Clay Baldock and staff from both clubs rendered assistance. We send our best wishes to the young player.
When the action resumed, Parra settled back into their rhythm, stretching the Steelers defence with strong runs and crisp ball movement.
With their opponents on the back foot, the Eels took play down the right and Blaize Talagi popped a delightful ball for Mohamed Alameddine to scythe through a gap and race away for the second try of the match.
Charbel Chehade was proving a handful for defenders as the Eels forwards took complete control to set up the next attacking raid. After counting numbers in the line, Matt Arthur sent play left to Chehadie and the back rower would not be denied as he charged over from short range.
The Eels had an impressive eighteen point lead and they were about to add to the tally until a timely Steelers intercept and a couple of penalties put the visitors unexpectedly on the attack.
Parramatta tried to hold them out with a very compact defence line, but a perfectly executed “harbour bridge” pass put the Steelers winger into open space and he crossed for a converted try.
Just after the try, Eels five-eighth Blaize Talagi was forced from the field with a leg injury but this didn’t derail the Eels' attack.
From about 30 metres out, Matt Arthur jumped out of dummy half and sliced through the Steelers defence. After stepping the fullback, he was brought down just inches from the line. A couple of tackles later, Lorenzo Talataina’s stab kick deflected back into his own hands and the halfback immediately passed to Sam Tuivati who smashed over for his second try.
The conversion advanced the score to 24-6, and the Eels took that lead to the sheds at halftime.
The second half resumed with the Steelers again having to absorb more Eels pressure. Tensions mounted alongside the big collisions, and a caution was eventually issued to both captains when play broke down into a pushing and shoving incident.
Alameddine looked to have a double to his name when he slid through for a try, but the referee quickly signalled a penalty for obstruction. It ended up being a 12 point turnaround as Steelers back-rower Isaac Laughton opened up the Eels' right edge before a deflected pass and more quick hands from his team mates secured a converted try against the run of play.
Clever deception from the Eels set up their reply. With a centre-field scrum ordered in the Steelers quarter, the Eels loaded their left side with clear intention to work the Steelers for numbers.
But it was all smoke and mirrors as the intention all along was to give Michael Gabrael the 2-on-2 look down the short side, and didn’t he enjoy it! An explosive first step was followed by a little in and away and he was over for a cracking individual try.
Incredibly, it would be another 12 point turnaround that provided the Steelers with the next score.
A fine Eels attacking play had Mohamed Alameddine again looking certain to score, but this time he was tripped up just short of the line and lost possession. From the resulting scrum, the Steelers opted for a trick shot, kicking downfield.
The visitor’s fast outside backs won the race to the ball and just two tackles later, Illawarra had their third try.
Confusion reigned from the kick off as the Steelers were pinged for an obstruction. They were then penalised for a strip and the Eels took a quick tap and run. After running to the right, Kobi Hurford freed his arm for an outrageous backhanded offload to Charbel Chehade who gleefully crossed for his second try of the day.
The Eels 34 to 18 victory has pushed them to sixth place and a confirmed finals berth. They take on the 4th placed Raiders at Cabramatta in the final round this coming Saturday.
Eels 34 (Tries: Charbel Chehade 2, Sam Tuivati 2, Mohamed Alameddine, Michael Gabrael Goals: Mohamed Alameddine 5) defeated Steelers 18
SG Ball Cup
There was no finals berth up for grabs but there was plenty of pride at stake when the Eels took on the fourth-placed Illawarra Steelers in the SG Ball Cup match.
The early arm wrestle was broken when a penalty to the Steelers put them deep into Parramatta’s territory. Keen to get off their line, the Eels rushing defence was caught out by a simple shift to the right. The conversion was unsuccessful but at the ten-minute mark Illawarra had a valuable four-point lead.
Not long after, a penalty to the Eels allowed them to return serve. With the Illawarra defence expecting a shift, Jacob Davis jumped out of dummy half near the posts then turned Lance Fualema back on the inside. The ruck defenders couldn’t adjust to the switch and the powerful prop crossed for the Eels opening try, which with the conversion provided a two-point lead.
Parra’s increased confidence had them playing some of their best attacking football of the season and they were soon rewarded.
On the back of repeat possession, the Eels worked play into the Steelers quarter. A shift to the right saw Charlie Guymer barrel into the defenders who seemed to have him covered. But somehow the talented centre flicked a sensational offload to Cody Parry who scored in the corner.
The all important conversion was nailed by Riley Lack and the Eels extended their lead to beyond a converted try.
However, the Steelers were next to score, proving why they were sitting in the top four. Breaking the Eels right side defence wide open, Illawarra’s support runners swarmed through, and pass after pass kept the movement flowing deep into the Eels quarter. Parra struggled to hold on and Trey Barlow’s try narrowed the gap for the visitors.
Momentum was all with the Steelers and the Eels did well to keep the score at 12-8 when the halftime siren sounded.
That lead was short-lived after the break when the Steelers again dismantled the Eels right side defence for a well worked try. This time the conversion was successful and Illawarra edged ahead by two points.
It would be the Eels big men who restored the Eels lead. After Parra set up camp in the Steelers red zone, Ibrahim Fakhri put the Steelers on the back foot as he dug deep into the line in front of the posts. He then delivered a beautiful short ball to Mark Simon who steamed over for an excellent strike-back try.
With the physicality of the clash heating up, a fine defensive set from the Steelers pinned the Eels in their own quarter, and they appeared to be rewarded when Riley Lack’s clearing kick screwed off the side of his boot.
However, a superb kick chase from Charlie Guymer forced a dropped ball that Dan Readon swooped on for an important repeat possession and the critical turn in the game.
The Eels advanced the play towards the Steelers quarter before Cody Parry scooped up an errant pass and displayed outstanding leg drive to push the defenders back right to the goal line. On the back of that run, Freeman Forsythe jumped into dummy half and caught the ruck defenders by surprise as he dived over for what would be the match winning try.
If the Eels had earlier demonstrated some of their best attack of the season, then they matched that with superbly committed defence over the final ten minutes.
When the final siren sounded, the Eels had stood tall with a boil over 22-14 win against the highly regarded Steelers.
Though finals football is now out of their reach, the team will be looking to finish the season on a high against the Raiders at New Era Stadium this coming weekend.
Eels 22 (Tries: Lance Fualema, Cody Parry, Mark Simon, Freeman Forsythe Goals: Riley Lack 3) defeated Steelers 14.
TEAM OF THE WEEK
Mohamed Alameddine (HM)
Noah Totoa (HM)
Charlie Guymer (SG)
Petesa Lio (TG)
Alysha Bell (TG)
Lorenzo Talatina (HM)
Rose Beckett (TG)
Sam Tuivati (HM)
Matt Arthur (HM)
Ruby-Jean Kennard (TG)
Charbel Chehade (HM)
Saxon Pryke (SG)
Kobi Hurford (HM)
Lei-Lani Tua (TG)
Markis Atoa (SG)
Mark Simon (SG)
Josh Alhazim (SG)