PARRAMATTA 29 MANLY 20
Fun of the flair ... Parramatta's Joseph Paulo floats back a ball during last night's victory over Manly. Photo: Simon Alekna
A rugby league season can turn on a key moment. This week, Parramatta had three of them.
The first came a few days before game day, when Nathan Hindmarsh broke the news no Eels fan wanted to hear. He was involved in another last night when, with the game on the line, he charged downfield and made a tackle as memorable as the 10,000-plus before it.
Matthew Keating of the Eels dives over to score a try. Photo: Getty Images
''I thought the catalyst, a bit of a turning point, was when our skipper here, on a kick chase, whacked Brett Stewart there,'' Eels coach Steve Kearney said. ''I thought that set the tone for the last 20 minutes. It's the same guy that we were saying a week or two weeks ago that he's too old.''
But if the Eels actually go on to do something this year, in a turnaround sparked by their upset over arch rivals Manly, then look no further than Jarryd Hayne's return.
Clubs understandably bristle at the suggestion they are a one-man team and the Eels had plenty of contributors last night. However, Hayne provided the spark that had been sorely missing in the abysmal performances over the past fortnight.
Jarryd Hayne of the Eels scored two tries on his return from injury. Photo: Getty Images
Although still hampered by that right knee injury, the fullback scored the opening and decisive tries to open the season for the Eels and relieve some of the pressure on their embattled coach.
''The calibre of player that Haynesy is, it's always good to have someone like that in your side, definitely,'' Hindmarsh said. ''There was a little bit of a fist pump when he scored that first try. It's great to have him back.''
With Hayne back, there was an additional focal point for the attack, taking the pressure off halves Chris Sandow and Ben Roberts, who had his best game for several seasons.
Even though he was far from full fitness - ''I don't think he's ever going to be 100 per cent, I'm picking that was more his lungs that he was looking to drag than his knee,'' offered Kearney - Hayne raised his game and the game of those around him. Afterwards, he said he was in the best shape in years, despite admitting he was still hampered by the injury.
''It was tweaking here and there and the last run in the first half scared me a bit with the way I landed, but other than that we always knew that I was going to play with a bit of pain, but it was nothing as bad as last time,'' he said.
''There's fluid that's left but it's a lot more free.''
The Eels opened up a 12-point lead but, as they have done so often in the past, let their opponents back into the contest. When Jamie Buhrer scored in the 56th minute, the ensuing conversion put Manly in front. But Hayne's try - and that hit from Hindmarsh - ensured this one wouldn't slip away.
''I think I tripped into him,'' Hindmarsh said in his self-effacing way. ''Being about 30 kilos heavier than him, I stumbled forward and he just came off that way. I had to do something.''
So instead of opening their season at 0-5, the Eels broke out with what the skipper described as a ''rusty'' rendition of the team song. A season which appeared over, Hayne said, was only just beginning.
''We definitely turned a new leaf and a new page and that was our mentality this week, we just wanted to forget the first four games and start our season tonight,'' Hayne said.
The premiers, meanwhile, have their own problems. Up against a team Geoff Toovey described as nothing ''too spectacular'', they were unable to overcome the late loss of Jamie Lyon (elbow) and an uncharacteristic amount of dropped ball. Asked to put his finger on why they couldn't close it out, Toovey didn't have the answers. ''I'd be a super coach if I did - it's up to the individuals and us as a collective to work it out and we'll do that this week,'' he said.
A late hamstring injury to Kiwi pivot Kieran Foran didn't help either. The full extent of the injury remains unknown.
PARRAMATTA 29 (J Hayne 2 M Keating K Sio tries C Sandow 6 goals C Sandow field goal) bt MANLY 20 (J Buhrer B Stewart J Taufua A Watmough tries D Cherry-Evans 2 goals) at Parramatta Stadium. Referee: Jared Maxwell, Gavin Reynolds.