Manly gave Arthur’s side the examination they were seeking. On a perfect winter’s evening, with both sides near full strength and possession equally shared, they went at it. Based on the quality of football produced, there is every chance they could meet again in late October.
The Eels looked in control for most of it. They shot to an 18-2 lead early in the second half and that seemed to be that. But the visitors stormed home and appeared to steal it in the final minute. Reuben Garrick crossed for what looked like the match winner – only for referee Ben Cummins to rule the final pass from Tom Trbojevic forward. It was a dud call.
The honeymoon for the referees has officially ended.
That call ensured Parramatta secured a 4-0 start to the year for the first time since 1989.
“It’s nice for our fans but we want to repeat that every game,” Arthur said. “We need to repeat our attitude and mentality. If we got beat on the death there tonight, if the pass had gone the other way, we have to go back and have a look how we let them back into the game.
“In terms of our attitude and mentality, that’s the priority for us right now. We’ve still got a long way to go.”
During their last clash, Maiko Sivo was unstoppable. Late last year, he bulldozed his way over for a hat-trick of tries, leaving would-be defenders bruised and embarrassed. This time around he was the assist king. On two occasions he threw the final pass to a teammate, showing he can threaten the defence in more ways than one.
“You don’t just want him to get the ball and run,” Arthur said.
Michael Jennings was the beneficiary the first time, when Sivo popped a magic pass after his progress was halted by Tom Trbojevic. And then, with just 11 seconds on the clock before half-time, he placed himself in the centres from a midfield scrum and put Brown over in the corner.
When Kane Evans scored just after the resumption, the scoreline could have been anything. Instead, Manly worked their way back into proceedings and scored three unanswered tries. If the Eels truly are the benchmark, the Silvertails aren’t far behind them.
“I thought they were a threat all across the field, every time they got the ball,” Arthur said of the opposition.
“They played nice and flat and went out with lots of numbers and big bodies. I thought we did pretty well.”
Three of the four halves on the field have benefited from personal tuition from Andrew Johns. Daly Cherry-Evans learnt a few things from the Immortal during his stint on the Sea Eagles brains trust and now he has a couple of promising pupils in the golden west. Given Johns isn’t in the Parramatta bubble, Mitchell Moses and Dylan Brown have had to be home-schooled.
With the clock running down and Parramatta ahead by just six, Moses slotted a field goal. Clearly he has been doing his homework.
Last year, the Eels would follow up a big win with an unexpected loss. It’s a habit they are beginning to shake.
“We need to repeat that over and over,” Arthur said. “The work we did in the preseason helped and shows their mindset, that they are prepared to roll their sleeves up and start [strongly] every time.”
When they return, the fans will be back in greater numbers if there are more nights like this.
Adrian Proszenko is the Chief Rugby League Reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald.