Canterbury 32 Parramatta 12
Bulldogs bite the Eels
Bulldogs hooker Michael Ennis receives a facelift during play. Photo: Brendan Esposito
IF IT looked like boys against men for much of the match at ANZ Stadium last night, that's because it effectively was.
After recording their seventh consecutive win, the Bulldogs sit in equal first place with Melbourne while Parramatta remain anchored to the bottom of the competition ladder.
But without injured superstar Jarryd Hayne and prop Fuifui Moimoi, who was cleared of a broken jaw late last night after being hit high by Sam Kasiano in the opening tackle of the match, the Eels were not expected to do as well as they did.
Since 2009, Parramatta have won only once without Hayne and on paper, at least, the game looked like a total mismatch as the Eels had five players in their line-up who don't even feature in this year's NRL media guide.
Yet the likes of five-eighth Luke Kelly, lock Joseph Paulo, winger Ken Sio, second-rower Matthew Ryan and hooker Nathan Smith were among Parramatta's best.
Along with centres Ryan Morgan and Jacob Loko, they represent the future of the club and Eels fans in the 31,102 crowd would have liked what they saw when Kelly twice combined with Sio for tries.
In each instance, Kelly - a 22-year-old mid-season recruit from Melbourne - showed great vision to kick across field to his right for an unmarked Sio, who scored himself in the 17th minute and put Morgan over in the 46th minute.
However, as promising as the young Eels were, they were no match for Canterbury and the home side managed to produce an even better try when fullback Ben Barba ran 99 metres to score in the ninth minute.
With Josh Morris having already scored for Canterbury, it was looking like a long night for the Eels and their coach Stephen Kearney as the opening 10 minutes showcased the worst of Parramatta this season.
In his regular Herald column yesterday, former Eels and South Sydney coach Jason Taylor yesterday highlighted what he believes is an illegal second-man play used by the Bulldogs that has helped Morris become the NRL's highest tryscorer but the Parramatta defence had no excuse.
Twice Morris scored after Barba wrapped behind Frank Pritchard, acting as a decoy runner, but Sio and Morgan had rushed so far infield they left a massive overlap out wide.
The move also yielded a third try to winger Jonathan Wright in the 75th minute.
Barba's length-of-the-field try came from a perfectly positioned Chris Sandow kick but after rushing up in defence the Parramatta halfback was simply brushed aside and fullback Luke Burt had no chance of stopping the try.
Somehow the Eels regrouped after that but there was always a sense that they were not good enough to defeat a team that Des Hasler has developed into a genuine premiership force since joining Canterbury from Manly this season.
Under the coaching of Des Hasler, Kasiano, Pritchard, Morris and Barba are playing the best football of their careers, while rookie five-eighth Josh Reynolds is arguably the most improved player of the season.
In contrast, Parramatta's senior players are struggling and a long season surely can't end soon enough for Nathan Hindmarsh and Luke Burt, who have announced their retirement. Moimoi is also unsigned and his future appears uncertain after he was assisted from the field in the opening minute. Kasiano was placed on report but Moimoi appeared to slip and it is unlikely the Bulldogs prop will face a significant charge.
BULLDOGS 32 (J Morris 2 J Wright 2 B Barba J Reynolds tries K Inu 4 goals) bt PARRAMATTA 12 (R Morgan K Sio tries L Burt 2 goals) at ANZ Stadium. Referee: Matt Cecchin, Phil Haines. Crowd: 31,102.