If you build it, the breakthrough win will come. The Parramatta Eels didn’t even need the backdrop of a Iowan cornfield either as they notched their first victory of the season with a 16-12 win over the North Queensland Cowboys. Parramatta secured the lead in the 20th minute when the outstanding Mahalia Murphy stormed over and never surrendered it from there, even with a late flourish from the Cowboys. It was the culmination of a month of steady improvement and a dividend payout on the investment in young talent made by Dean Widders in that same period.
On top of the usual names you would imagine starring, the Eels also debuted two more talented rookies with Tarsha Gale star Lindsay Tui looking completely at home at left centre while new recruit Noaria Kapua provided genuine impact from the bench. Seeing everything coalesce and come together for our girls, even if only for a single game, was incredibly satisfying and could be the catalyst to spark a serious run in the backend of the season.
Before we can even begin think about that though we need to dissect all of the action from Saturday!
I have written pleny about the important contributions from all of the young prospects in Parramatta’s side this season but perhaps the biggest flashpoint for the team was the return of Rachael Pearson in Round 4. Since she overcame a calf injury, the Eels have steadily improved and her influence on the team has grown.
It reached a new peak in 2023 with a sparkling day out that featured two stunning try assists from her right foot as she surgically picked apart the Cowboys. Kimberley Hunt was the beneficiary on both occasions and she deserves a shout out of her own as well. After a shaky start under the high ball, Hunt rapidly turned it around to show terrific confidence in fielding both of Pearson’s crossfield gems. It was a tremendous rallying effort from the centre-turned-winger and proved crucial in deciding the effort.
Pearson’s influence on this team is obvious and the only real knock I have is that we are all left to lament what could have been had she and Elsie Albert been fit from Round 1.
Goal line guts set the tone early on
The Cowboys had more than their fair share of attacking opportunities in the early exchanges. They were camped on Parramatta’s goal line at various points in the first half and while they were able to cross the white stripe here and there they were never able to successfully (or legally) score. It was a decisive psychological victory for the Eels and while they conceded back-to-back tries later in the game the time they bought themselves with those early efforts built the platform for the team to go on to win.
Beware the reaper
Speaking of goal line guts…be careful if you are to venture down Parramatta’s right edge as an attacker because Cassey Tohi-Hiku is waiting. Francesca Goldthorp found out the painful way in the 17th minute when she transgressed and was promptly walloped. It was a beautiful read, vicious jam and just dominant tackle from Tohi-Hiku who continues to shine in all aspects and all phases.
The emerging superstar went for damn near 150m on the ground again, threw in a superb backhanded flick pass to Hunt and casually boomed a thunderous 65m line dropout. She needs to be signed to an extension yesterday.
The Usual Suspects
Along with Tohi-Hiku, just about all of Parramatta’s 2023 prime contributors were at their best on the weekend. Abbi Church, Rueben Cherrington, Tyla Amiatu, Mahalia Murphy joined ‘CTH’ and Pearson as winning factors for the Blue & Gold. They were joined this week by handy stints from Kimberly Hunt, Talesha O’Neill and Jade Fonua as the playing stocks for the club begin to get bolstered.
There is an obvious core of the team emerging and it is looking well-balanced. Even without Kennedy Cherrington and Elsie Albert the team is starting to find its feet and the ‘usual suspects’ are shaping this team in exciting ways. Rueben and Tyla both averaged around an insane 14m a carry on Saturday with Amiatu also showing off a devastating ability to offload. Murphy both setup and then scored the opening try enroute to a casual 180m day at the office while Church broke 6 tackles.
The win was a brilliant reward for all of their outstanding efforts over the last month and hopefully a sign of things to come if they can keep this team together.
The New Girls
Speaking of signs to come, we started this column with references to the debuts of Lindsay Tui and Noaria Kapua and it is about time to talk more about them. The double debut of 2023 NSW Under 19s reps went just about perfectly for coach Dean Widders. They walked different paths to arrive at the same destination though. Kapua joined the Eels mid NRLW season from Canterbury’s Tarsha Gale squad while Tui starred for the Eels in the same junior competition this year.
Different paths lead to the same destination though and neither lacked for courage or confidence. The stat-keepers credited both with over 100m on the ground while both held their own defensively. Tui, in particular deserves plenty of credit in that regard given how difficult and lonely centre can be on the defensive side of the ball.
It would be a tough call to drop either as the Eels plot to take down the Roosters and I am all onboard running it back with the same team that won on the weekend!