The much loved Leichhardt Oval was today’s venue for a highly impressive victory by the Eels under 16 team. The Parramatta side entered the finals series in second place, but suffered a frustrating Week 1 loss to the Sea Eagles, 26 to 24. The Sharks entered this clash as last up winners, having dispatched of Balmain 22 to 18 in last week’s elimination final.
The Eels were first to put points on the board via confident fullback, Josh Tuipulotu who crossed for a converted try in the 7th minute.
Nearly twenty minutes of intensely competitive football followed without addition to the scoreboard. The Eels dominated possession and territory but the Sharks were resolute in their goal line defence. Both teams traded brutal defensive shots in what was a quality half of junior football.
At this stage, the difference between the two teams was found in the respective kicking games of both halfbacks.
Young Kade Dykes could not quite get the radar right for the Sharks, often finding Eels fullback Tuipulotu who was proving to be a challenge to contain.
In contrast, Parra’s Jakob Arthur repeatedly found the turf deep into the corners. Cronulla were continually forced to start their sets within their quarter, whereas the Eels would often be able to begin a set between the quarter and half-way lines.
With five minutes to go in the first half, the red zone pressure finally became too much for the gallant Sharks with Eels centre Sean Russell crossing ten metres in from the sideline. His booming boot added the extras for the Eels and it seemed that we’d have a 12 nil score line at the break.
Powerful Eels left centre Viliami Penisini had other ideas, and an incredible 40 metre burst that left defenders strewn behind him sent his team back into the Sharks quarter. A shift to the right found a rampaging Lachlan Maric running an angled line onto an Arthur pass to cross near the posts. The conversion sent the Eels into the sheds with an 18 nil lead.
The Sharks began the second stanza with controlled purpose, but the Parramatta defence was rarely troubled. It was soon a case of normal transmission resuming. The half was seven minutes old when Samuel Loizou took on the defence to score an individual try which was duly converted by the radar boot of Russell.
The Eels then exerted their authority with a try from the kick off set. After working back down to the Sharks quarter, a shift to the right saw talented winger, Matthew Komolafe cross out wide. Again the acute angle proved no challenge for Russell as the two points saw the score blow out to 30 to nil with 19 minutes to go.
A clever dart and then an offload by replacement dummy half Drew Lloyd found Arthur in support, and his quick pass to the left had back rower Oscar Mezzomo stepping into open spaces to score out on the left wing. Another sideline conversion from Russell resulted in the scoreboard ticking over to 36 nil with 14 minutes still remaining.
After the kickoff, an error from the Eels gave the Sharks a brief period of momentum which they accepted with a converted try next to the posts. These six points would be the end of their scoring.
Around this time Arthur was rested and the next ten minutes was scrappy for both teams. This period of scoreless football was ended by a clever red zone grubber kick by Jabriel Kalache which was regathered on the line for the try by the ever present Joshua Tuipulotu. Russell’s conversion gave the 42 to 6 score line and with time nearly up it seemed that the match had concluded.
That player, Penisini, then provided the match with its déjà-vu moment as he launched into a 55 metre run with the last possession of the game, this time getting the four-pointer himself. In a minor anti-climax the final conversion was missed, but the 46 to 6 result left plenty of smiles on Eels faces.
Although the backs featured prominently in the Eels try scoring list, it’s impossible to ignore the work of the pack who laid a strong platform with powerful charges and brutal defence. Trey Mooney was a standout and Taylor Mauala deserves a mention for his determined charges after coming off the bench.
Jake Arthur executed superbly as the general on the field, braving the hits by taking the ball right to the line and directing the play with calm maturity. The outside backs possessed both the power and the pace to take advantage of the solid work of their inside men. Viliami Penisini did his best impersonation of a runaway locomotive today and probably marked himself as a player to watch next week.
The Eels now move on to face Newcastle in the grand final qualifier.