Absence of Eels veterans offers glimpse of a bright future
WARRIORS 36 EELS 20
Jarryd Hayne of the Eels grimaces in the tackle after injuring his knee. Photo: Getty Images
Parramatta fans were given a glimpse of the future last night and, with the exception of Jarryd Hayne suffering a recurrence of his knee injury - and the result - they would have liked what they saw.
Eels lose Hayne and the match against Warriors
Sandwiched ... Bill Tupou. Photo: Getty Images
After losing Hayne on a medicab in the 15th minute, the young Eels lost their way and eventually went down 36-20 to the Warriors, but they did enough to suggest coach Stephen Kearney is on the right track.
Besides Hayne, who was returning from a knee injury sustained in last month's trial against Penrith, Parramatta lost captain Nathan Hindmarsh (virus) before kick-off, while club stalwart Luke Burt had been dropped to the NSW Cup by Kearney.
With speculation that Hindmarsh and Burt will retire at the end of the season, the Eels fielded a line-up that is likely to serve them for the next few years, and it was the first time Kearney had his strike weapons Chris Sandow, Ben Roberts, Willie Tonga and Hayne in the same back line - albeit only briefly.
The news on Hayne, who appeared to be in severe pain after collapsing to the ground midstride, was that the injury occurred when he strained the capsule around his right knee, which was heavily bandaged.
Medical staff said the scar tissue from his previous injury had given way, making a loud noise and causing pain, but Hayne was only expected to be sidelined short term.
Before the star fullback's departure, the Eels had looked as sharp in attack as they have for years, and were dominating last year's grand finalists, with Sandow, Roberts and Hayne combining brilliantly.
Equally impressive was the way the young Parramatta outfit regrouped before half-time after initially appearing to drop their bundle when Hayne was forced off.
Ahead 8-6 after early tries to wingers Ken Sio and Cheyse Blair, the Eels conceded an easy try to Warriors winger Bill Tupou just minutes later as Esi Tonga and Reni Maitua got confused about their new positions in the reshuffled back line.
A 29th-minute try to boom Warriors centre Konrad Hurrell from a scrum win raised the fears of Parramatta supporters but the Eels regained their composure for Sandow to score in the 36th minute.
Sandow scored again 12 minutes from time to give his new club a chance of snatching an unlikely victory but late tries to Kevin Locke and Tupou denied the home team. In addition, Warriors five-eighth James Maloney scored a try that the Kiwis are renowned for after finishing a movement that involved 15 passes before he crossed in the 62nd minute.
It was the type of play Eels fans hope to see from their side in the future and, after withstanding a day of criticism for his decision to send Burt back to the NSW Cup, Kearney was entitled to feel vindicated by his side's performance.
Even former Parramatta hooker Ant Mitchell, who now plays for Sydney Roosters, took aim at Kearney, tweeting yesterday: ''How [Justin] Horo, [Jordan] Atkins and [Shane] Shakleton are not playing 2night is a joke! Even worse is Parra legend Luke Burt isnt in the team. Wats doing?''
But it took just eight minutes for Kearney's decision to stick with rookie wingers Sio and Blair rather than switch Burt from fullback when Hayne was cleared to play to pay off, with the pair both crossing for early tries. Kearney is known to be a big fan of the pair, and it is believed he had concerns that Burt would be giving away a significant size advantage to giant Warriors winger Manu Vatuvei.
As it was, Sio shifted to the left wing to allow the bigger Blair to mark up on Vatuvei, who is often associated with a horror night he had at Parramatta Stadium five years ago but actually boasts an impressive tryscoring record at the Eels' home ground.
Sio scored in the fourth minute off a no-look cut-out pass from Roberts and then Blair crossed in the opposite corner from an identical play by Hayne - but the loss of the Origin star stalled the Eels' momentum.
WARRIORS 36 (B Tupou 2 K Hurrell K Locke J Maloney F Mateo tries J Maloney 6 goals) bt PARRAMATTA 20 (C Sandow 2 C Blair K Sio tries C Sandow 2 goals) at Parramatta Stadium.
Referee: Gavin Badger, Brett Suttor Crowd: 12,102