The Eels’ SG Ball and Harold Matthews Cup sides are each one win away from a Grand Final, after victories in the elimination play-offs over the weekend.
Both high-intensity, hard-fought affairs were not decided until dying minutes at Campbelltown Stadium, with the Eels showing great resolve to reach this week’s Semi Finals.
Unfortunately, the Eels’ Tarsha Gale Cup team bowed out of the finals with a defeat to Illawarra Steelers.
The Eels will play their Grand Final qualifiers this Saturday at Leichhardt Oval, with the SG Ball side to face Canberra and the Harold Matthews team to play Newcastle.
SG Ball Cup: Late tries send Eels to Semi Finals
The Eels advanced to the penultimate round of the SG Ball Cup by beating the Magpies in a physical Elimination Final.
Fullback Apa Twidle scored a double as the Eels came from behind twice, before hooker Matt Arthur sealed the deal with a try in the closing stages.
The early exchanges consisted of desperation in both attack and defence, with the opening try not coming until the 25th minute when Wests fullback Heath Mason scored.
A 4-0 scoreline at halftime is rare in Junior Reps football, but reflected the nature of this intense battle.
Nearly 15 minutes elapsed in the second half before the next try was scored, and it came from a fine individual effort by Apa Twidle.
The fullback received the ball in a left-side raid and after putting the defence in two minds, he put the foot down and accelerated through the line for a crucial try. Ethan Sanders added the conversion to edge the Eels ahead for the first time of the match.
That advantage was short-lived however, as Heath Mason scored a 90-metre, converted try to restore Wests’ lead.
With time ticking away, and the Eels defence scrambling to hold on, it was going to take a big moment to turn the tide.
As the Eels struggled to escape their red zone, Matt Arthur took on the retreating Magpies markers and linked with Mohamed Alameddine, who in turn unleashed Ethan Sanders. The halfback found Twidle, and he streaked away for his second try of the afternoon. Sanders’ conversion bumped the Eels back in front.
With five minutes remaining, the match was hanging in the balance at 12-10.
The Magpies pushed for a late match-winner and came close once again through their fullback, but the Eels would not be denied.
Matt Arthur secured victory for Parramatta with a close-range dart out of dummy half which he miraculously turned into the decisive try.
The win sees Parramatta proceed to a Semi Final against minor premiers Canberra at Leichhardt Oval on Saturday evening. The Raiders enter the match with an edge after beating the Eels earlier this season, but Parramatta will take great confidence from their determined win over Wests.
Eels 18 (Tries: Twidle 2, Arthur; Goals: Sanders 3) defeated Wests Magpies 10.
Harold Matthews Cup: Superb Eels defence secures Semi Final berth
The Eels produced their best defensive performance of the season so far to overcome the Sharks in a fiery Finals encounter with Cronulla.
From the opening whistle, both teams signalled that Campbelltown Stadium would be no place for the faint-hearted. Aided by a glut of possession, the Sharks threw everything in their arsenal at the Eels, but the Blue & Gold wall refused to yield.
Parramatta crossed first in the 13th minute when fullback Corey Leigh accepted a short pass from Zaidas Muagututia and then found Junior Fagalele in support. The five-eighth was able to get the ball down despite the attention of a Sharks defender, and the conversion from Dom Farrugia put the Eels up by six.
Cronulla continued to apply pressure to the Eels’ line and they finally achieved success when a wayward grubber sat up for the Sharks to score, but a missed conversion meant Parramatta retained the lead.
Despite facing penalties and repeat sets, the Eels held their nerve in defence with all players committed to holding the lead. Captain Jezaiah Funa-Iuta led by example and set the tone for his team to follow.
The physicality of the contest caused tempers to flare and after both captains received a caution, it was the Eels who settled down first.
Earning a full set in the Sharks’ red zone, Parramatta unleashed their forwards in a series of barnstorming runs. In his second big carry, prop Mikayel Tito powered into the defence and then spun through the contact to slam the ball down under the posts.
Farrugia’s conversion provided the Eels with an important eight-point buffer with 12 minutes left on the clock.
There was no easing of intensity in the final minutes as the Sharks tried their utmost to breach the Eels’ resolute line.
A 70-metre run by Parramatta’s Mark Williams off a charged down kick brought the crowd to their feet, before Funa-Iuta wrapped up the match, and his captain’s knock, with a strong carry and try.
The Eels will progress to a Semi Final date with the Knights at Leichhardt Oval, with a Grand Final berth on offer to the winner.
Eels 18 (Tries: Fagalele, Tito, Funa-Iuta; Goals: Farrugia 3) defeated Sharks 4.
Tarsha Gale Cup: Eels’ season ends in tough Finals affair
An Elimination Final loss to Illawarra Steelers brought Parramatta’s 2023 Tarsha Gale Cup campaign to a close.
The match was a proverbial game of two halves, as Parramatta dominated the opening 30 minutes before Illawarra took control in the second stanza.
It was all Parramatta to begin the match, and Alysha Bell finished a backline move featuring terrific work by Debbie Doueihi and Caitlin Peadon for the opening try. The 4-0 lead after eight minutes had the Eels in high spirits and playing a confident brand of football.
The Eels searched desperately for a second try, but the Steelers’ goal-line defence proved rock-solid.
Just before halftime, Illawarra landed an almighty blow when they crossed for a long-range try against the run of play. A superb sideline conversion gave the Steelers a two-point lead at the interval.
With wind in their sails, the Steelers dominated the second half and came away with a 16-point win to proceed to the Semi Finals.
Though the Eels fell one match short of matching last year’s Semi Finals finish, the 2023 Tarsha Gale Cup team enjoyed a memorable season, boding well for the future of the club’s Female Pathways program.
Congratulations to the girls, coach Ryan Walker, and all of the staff who contributed to the Eels’ Tarsha Gale Cup campaign.
Steelers 20 defeated Eels 4 (Try: Alysha Bell).