Canterbury 12 Parramatta 22
Parramatta have made light work of the absence of Jarryd Hayne, with Chris Sandow impersonating their NSW Origin No.1 with a masterful display at fullback in a 10-point win over the Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium.
Sandow was peerless in a result that not only entrenches Brad Arthur's side in the NRL's top eight, but ran against the grain of several unwanted statistical records.
Slippery customer: Eels players take down Caterbury's Sam Perrett. Photo: Getty Images
|View Match Statistics|
|Players||Thompson(2)||Tries||2||Tries||5||Players||Radradra, Toutai(2), Morgan(2)|
|Players||Inu 1/1 (100%), Ennis 1/1 (100%)||Conversions||2||Conversions||1||Players||Sandow 1/3 (33%), Norman 0/1 (0%), Kelly 0/1 (0%)|
|Players||Penalty goals||0||Penalty goals||0||Players|
|Players||Field goals||0||Field goals||0||Players||Sandow 0/1 (0%)|
The Eels had won only four of their past 29 games without Hayne, and lost 14 in a row at Sydney Olympic Park. The wooden spooners of the last two years had also lost 24 of their past 25 away matches.
Yet before a crowd of 24,012 on Sunday they led from the front, again demonstrating the vast improvement of affairs since Arthur took charge at Pirtek Stadium.
Centre Ryan Morgan and winger Vai Toutai scored doubles but it was Sandow, chiming into the backline as Hayne has made his name on, who stood out.
Due to State of Origin and injuries there were more changes of position here than a game of Twister.
The expectation was that it would be Parramatta, with such a poor record sans Hayne, that would do it the tougher but while Sandow relished the freedom it was Canterbury who looked disjointed without their NSW halves Josh Reynolds and Trent Hodkinson.
In their absence Michael Ennis deputised as the Dogs' primary playmaker with the Bulldogs first-gamer Damien Cook given dummy-half duties. A fine hooker, Ennis's difficulty in adjusting to the job showed you can't learn to be a halfback overnight, and further proved how valuable Reynolds and Hodkinson are to club as well as state.
Sandow had no such problems shifting away from halfback. The withdrawal of Hayne's replacement Ken Sio saw him unexpectedly sent to fullback rather than Corey Norman, who is no stranger to the position having begun his career there at Brisbane.
Fitter and in a much better state of mind than the Sandow of days gone by he revelled with the responsibility.
His impersonation of Hayne began after only five minutes, bolting through a gap with blinding speed and a couple of sublime steps off his left foot to boot. Only a desperate effort from Bulldogs prop James Graham stopped Eels lock Manu Ma'u finishing off Sandow's theatrics in the corner.
Ma'u was not only denied a try but ended up with a suspected fractured forearm from the tackle, and didn't play any further part. By half-time the Bulldogs were feeling the pain as well, though, with fullback Sam Perrett (knee) and forward David Klemmer (ankle) limiting their resources by being scratched for the rest of the game.
They were also behind 10-0 partly thanks to Sandow, whose second clear break created a four-pointer for Toutai and the other winger Semi Radradra, who streaked away for a 90-metre intercept try – his 13th of the season – five minutes earlier.
It was a first 40 minutes in which Sandow could do little wrong. Three minutes before the interval and with Canterbury readying for a repeat set he aimed his drop-out straight at the feet of Tim Lafai; the Bulldogs centre wasn't prepared, and the Eels wound up back with the ball.
Sandow's display wasn't without a hiccup. He spilled an Ennis torpedo bomb just after half-time and Parramatta paid for it when pint-sized Canterbury winger Corey Thompson defied his size to dive over out wide shortly after and close the margin.
The Bulldogs, forced into another change with Mitch Brown shifted into Perrett's place at fullback, looked more threatening in the second half but the Eels gave themselves breathing room when Toutai completed a double via a lovely, one-handed pass by teenage big man Pauli Pauli.
Sandow, reverting to halfback, sealed the long-awaited win at Homebush with 12 minutes left by combining with Pauli, who produced another deft, round-the-corner pass to send Morgan over. The centre then streaked away for his second with five minutes left.
Thompson walked away with a double as well thanks to another opportunistic late try but it was far too late for Canterbury.