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Sheens' F-bomb doesn't miss - but Kearney should

Date

Richard Hinds

"Kearney said the final effort only served to highlight the lacklustre performance that preceded it."

"Kearney said the final effort only served to highlight the lacklustre performance that preceded it." Photo: Getty Images

The winning coach, Tim Sheens, started his post-match press conference with an audible obscenity. The losing coach, Stephen Kearney, was relaxed enough to light-heartedly wonder whether Fuifui Moimoi - who had more chance of hiding his backside in a tutu than concealing his blatant double-movement - actually knew the rule.

Losing Parramatta fans stood and cheered their team from the field. Winning Wests Tigers fans shuffled to the exits as the players began a searching post-mortem on the field.

The postscript to yesterday's western derby was almost as bizarre as the game itself. Or, at least, the final 21 minutes during which Parramatta scored five tries to slash a 31-point deficit to the single, unexpectedly precious field goal Benji Marshall kicked for practice just before half-time.

Incidentally, Sheens had called that field goal from the box. Which, given it bolstered his rampaging team's lead to 19-0 against an opposition side that did not look likely to score another five tries this millennium, seemed a bit like taking out extra home insurance in case of falling space junk.

However, as redeeming as those finals moments might have seemed for Parramatta, you left wondering if they had done anything more than raise the spirits of those supporters who did not leave early to beat the traffic. Whether the Eels, with their futile flurry, had merely produced a more impressive form of camouflage than Manly's Sea Beagles outfit, or Canberra's more traditional combat jersey.

As you would expect, Kearney said the final effort only served to highlight the lacklustre performance that preceded it. Yet, as the pressure builds, he could not help be slightly relieved the late avalanche had taken the sting out of an abject performance. The type upon which harsh judgments can be made in grandstands and in boardrooms.

Indeed, when Ben Murdoch-Masila plunged over to complete a rapid-fire double after 62 minutes, and give Wests Tigers a 31-0 buffer, it seemed Kearney's Eels had also crossed a line. One that, after a season plus eight games of aching disappointment, separates mere under-achievement from outright crisis.

That seemed achingly apparent in the almost morose way in which the Eels had gone about their business. Wests Tigers, with troubles of their own, looked like a team desperate to make something happen. The Eels looked like a team vaguely hoping something would happen - but not too fussed if it didn't.

On a weekend when $550,000-per-season half Chris Sandow played for Wentworthville, it was the performance of five-eighth Ben Roberts that was symbolic of the Eels' lacklustre first 60 minutes. Once, having cut through the Tigers' defence, Roberts decided to kick the ball and let it hit the ground when he did. Later, he threw one pass so far forward he might well be nominated in the next NFL draft.

Before the match, two state government ministers had promoted a mental health initiative for the western suburbs. Without being flippant about their cause, errors like these were sure to do any Eels' fans head in. Of course, Roberts's blunders could at least be justified on the basis he was at least in the position to make them. Jarryd Hayne, the square peg in the round Origin hole, seemed on the comatose side of laconic. The honourable Nathan Hindmarsh was spared humiliation by long stints on the bench. And Moimoi, the irresistible force of the Parramatta grand final team of - can you believe it - just 2½ years ago, had assumed curious cult-figure status, drawing loud cheers for ineffectual runs at the Wests Tigers defence.

The result was that Wests Tigers had a virtual nets session, with Marshall and Robbie Farah wandering unmolested across the ruck, their forwards hammering holes in a balsa wood defence and Lote Tuqiri prowling threateningly on the wing. Just the type of confidence booster the dethroned premiership favourites needed. Even the last 22 minutes, which they spent mentally back in the sheds, might prove useful, providing ammunition for the clearly displeased Sheens.

The Eels? The most optimistic assessment was that final flurry had instilled missing confidence. That, sooner or later, Sandow would return to a team with its attacking instincts sharpened and things would gradually change.

The more realistic judgment? That if there is not drastic improvement, when the club's absent recruit Will Hopoate arrives he will find it easier to convince non-believers Jesus was more than just a great guy with some awesome party tricks, than he will to lift the Eels off the floor.

rhinds@smh.com.au

Twitter -@rdhinds

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