Parramatta have survived a scare from an improved Wests Tigers, who will finish the round on the bottom of the NRL ladder after losing 28-20 at Leichhardt Oval.
The Tigers’ tough draw won’t help their battle to avoid the wooden spoon. The other three bottom-four sides play each other before the season is out, while the Tigers face current top-eight sides in five of their remaining eight games.
The NRL’s most unwanted prize isn’t theirs yet, though, especially if they can build on the promising signs shown on Saturday night.
The Tigers scored more points against Parramatta than in Brett Kimmorley’s first three games in charge combined, and threatened to upset the Eels for the second time this season.
“I’d like to think we’re improving,” Kimmorley said.
“I thought we were tough. I thought we won the arm wrestle for a fair period of the match. There were lots of good things that happened.”
With a vocal crowd behind them, the Tigers were the more patient early after the visitors were denied two tries within the first ten minutes.
Parramatta made five errors inside 20 minutes and the Tigers capitalised, skipping out to a 12-0 lead.
Momentum turned when forward Justin Matamua was sin-binned less than five minutes into his NRL debut.
The under-19 State of Origin representative made late contact with Mitch Moses as he kicked and could face scrutiny from the match review committee.
The Eels ran in two tries just before halftime while they had the extra man advantage and when Moses took on the line soon after the break, the visitors had built up a lead that proved unassailable.
“I thought we took control of the game back pretty well,” Eels coach Brad Arthur said.
“Because of that patience, our headspace allowed us to capitalise.”
Isaiah Papali’i gave Tigers fans a preview of what he will bring to them in 2023.
He pounced on a Moses grubber to ice the Eels’ win and looked dangerous on the right edge with 154 run metres.
Luke Brooks had a mixed night as he works to keep Adam Doueihi, who returned to the starting side at centre, from usurping him at five-eighth.
Brooks saved a certain try by tackling Reed Mahoney close to the line midway through the second half. He also delivered the passes that gave David Nofoaluma two late tries and the Tigers a shot at snatching the win.
They will hope halfback Jackson Hastings, who finished the match, is fit for next week’s clash with Penrith after injuring his knee.
“It was pretty scary at the time, I thought I’d done me knee initially with the pain I was in,” he said.
“It was a bit clicky throughout the game.
“Fingers crossed it’s nothing too serious.”
Parramatta were without co-captain and Blues prop Junior Paulo so the Tigers went all in targeting Reagan Campbell-Gillard, who scored the Eels’ first try and didn’t take a break until the 52nd minute.
“He showed how he handled (his Origin omission), with some ownership and accountability to lead from the front,” Arthur said.
“He really led the forwards and never looked tired at any stage.”