FOR anyone, even in the most hushed tones, that thought Nathan Hindmarsh played a season too many, we present last night's match-winning performance in the extra-time win over Penrith.
Eels coach Stephen Kearney, speaking with The Sun-Herald after his skipper engineered one of the most remarkable comebacks in his career, offered: "That's the most commanding performance I've seen from a back-rower in a long time."
After the 57th minute with the Eels trailing 18-6 it seemed the wooden spoon would be decided in June.
In the 68th minute, Hindmarsh produced his first line break since round 21 in 2010 against the Roosters. He then produced a try assist to lock up the scores and send the match into extra time. He finished with 40 tackles and 20 runs for 181 metres. This was an Origin performance.
If Manly's injured back-rowers, Glenn Stewart and Tony Williams, can't make the series decider, there are worse options than Hindmarsh for a Blues berth.
"That's a decision I'm sure Ricky Stuart has thought long and hard about," Kearney said. "The way he played tonight was outstanding."
He then added with a laugh: "I don't think he should be selected because I need him next week. Dead-set, on tonight's performance, there's no doubt he wound back the clock. He took the game by the scruff of the neck, it was a real captain's knock."
Hindmarsh levelled the game. Chris Sandow won it. Halfbacks are paid the big money to win big games. Unfortunately, Penrith's general, Luke Walsh, wasn't there at the death after subluxing his shoulder. After two wayward attempts, Sandow struck a field goal sweetly to ensure the battle to avoid the bottom is alive and well.
"I had two practices before," he quipped. "I didn't quite hit them like I'm used to but the third one came off the boot real sweet. Once I kicked it, I knew it was going over."
Former Kiwi international Ben Roberts has gone from playing NSW Cup for Canterbury to playing NSW Cup for Wentworthville. The big off-season recruit was replaced by a mid-season one. Luke Kelly, who arrived from Melbourne, made his Eels debut last night in the No.18 jersey. "I thought he went really well," Hindmarsh said. "Just his talk on the field, guiding us around, particularly the middle men.
"We knew our roles, we knew where we needed to be because he was telling us what to do.
"We haven't had that for a long time. It was good to hear his voice calling the shots. Chrissy [Sandow] improved as well."
For Panthers coach Ivan Cleary, it was yet another one that got away.
"You can add that to a pretty long list this year – there's probably four or five games where we've led with 10 [minutes] to go," Cleary said. "We got ourselves ahead there . . . all of a sudden it's 18-12 and they're coming at you.
"We're doing a bit of clock watching and before we knew it, it was game on."
PARRAMATTA 19 (L Burt J Hayne R Morgan tries L Burt 3 goals C Sandow field goal) bt PENRITH 18 (L Lewis D Simmons E Uaisele tries B Austin 2 L Walsh goals) in golden-point extra time at Centrebet Stadium. Referee: Jared Maxwell, Adam Devcich. Crowd: 15,275.