Jarryd Hayne’s rugby league return lasted just 16 minutes as a James Maloney-inspired Warriors opened their account for the 2012 NRL season on Monday with a 36-20 win over a gallant Parramatta.
Five-eighth Maloney, who is headed to the Roosters next year, bagged 16 points with six conversions and a try while a double from Bill Tupou and four pointers to Feleti Mateo, Konrad Hurrell and Kevin Locke iced an impressive finish for last season’s beaten grand finalists.
But much of the attention was on Hayne, a late inclusion in the side along with Willie Tonga following a knee problem which he sustained in a pre-season trial match against Penrith.
The 23-year-old slumped to the turf unchallenged to silence the Parramatta Stadium crowd of 12,120 midway through a run, sparking fears he has suffered a serious injury.
Eels medics later announced he’d only suffered minor damage to the capsule around the joint but Hayne was stretchered from the field and did not return.
Parramatta coach Stephen Kearney made a big decision to drop Eels’ record try scorer Luke Burt to accommodate Hayne, keeping faith with rookie wingers Cheyse Blair and Ken Sio.
Skipper Nathan Hindmarsh was also ruled out earlier in the day with a virus.
The call to axe Burt looked to have paid dividends in the opening 10 minutes with Sio crossing in the left corner following a fine cut-out pass from Ben Roberts, and Blair doing likewise on the opposite flank after a good break from Hayne.
The Warriors got themselves back into the game with their first attack of the game when former Eel Mateo crashed over from close range.
Last year’s beaten grand finalists then grabbed the lead on 12 minutes when Tupou took advantage of some poor defence from the hosts to dive over for his first try of the season.
The loss of Hayne knocked Parramatta out of their stride and some more lax defending allowed giant rookie centre Hurrell to power his way to the line on the half-hour mark.
However, the Eels finished the half positively when Hurrell tasted the other side of life in the NRL when he was crashed tackled by Chris Sandow and Justin Poore, and the little halfback pounced on the loose pass to scurry through and score.
The former Souths man added the extras to close the gap to four points, at halftime.
The Warriors struck first after the break with Maloney finishing of a superb move before Sandow gave the home side a sniff by converting his own try with 12 minutes remaining.
But tries by Kevin Locke and Tupou sealed the result for the Warriors.