Parramatta have kept their mathematical finals aspirations breathing with a dour 10-4 victory over Penrith in Darwin.
In a game that failed to reach any real heights for the 8340 locals who attended, both sides struggled to lay on any kind of sustained attack in Saturday night’s steamy conditions at TIO Stadium.
The Eels were down 4-0 at halftime but four minutes after the break winger Semi Radradra burned opposite Waqa Blake, producing a 60-metre kick return to cross for the equaliser.
Neither side looked like breaking the deadlock until Parramatta fullback Reece Robinson raced 75 metres from dummy half to seal the victory.
However, highlights were few and far between.
Both sides made errors in the opening three sets before Blake all but planted the Steeden over the line as he was bundled into touch in the fourth minute.
The Panthers dominated possession from the outset, forcing five dropouts in the opening 20 or so minutes and enjoying 23 plays in the opposition red zone compared to Parramatta’s one.
But it was Blake’s 23rd-minute try that was the difference at the main break, the rookie winger making the most of an easier passage to the corner this time, set up by a slick right-side shift.
Fullback Will Smith should’ve doubled the advantage 10 minutes later but his opposite Robinson stole the ball upon grounding.
Eels centre Will Hopoate injured a hamstring midway through the first half and failed to return.
The win lifts the Eels to 20 points, just four behind 8th-placed Canterbury with a month remaining in the regular season.
Eels coach Brad Arthur praised his team for turning Penrith away despite giving up plenty of possession in the first half.
“At one stage there we made nearly 100 tackles more. We defended 12 sets to four in the first 20 minutes, I think they had eight sets in a row,” Arthur said.
“Our attack was ugly tonight but to the credit of the playing group, they toughed it out.”
Penrith coach Ivan Cleary bemoaned his team’s inability to take advantage of the extra possession and admitted that their season was as good as over.
“It’s just reality,” he said.
“We’ve been trying to concentrate on putting on a good performance to try and get a win really, which hasn’t happened for a while now.
“We’ve had every chance in our last three games to win and we haven’t been able to execute well enough to do that.”