Parramatta Eels beat Newcastle Knights to return to top of NRL ladder

There was much to play for as the Knights hosted the Eels on a carpet-like surface in front of 8,000 well-scattered fans in Newcastle. The Eels notched an unconvincing 10-4 victory, allowing them to regain their position at the top of the competition ladder, while the Knights missed their chance to edge into the Top 4.

The game started inauspiciously with Eels back-rower Shaun Lane fielding the kick-off near enough to the sideline that he could stuck a foot over it to win his side a penalty. Instead he caught it in the field of play and then stepped on the touchline. From the scrum Mitchell Pearce threw a pass along the ground. Could it have been early nerves from these two premiership contenders?

The Knights had the first real chance to score after 8 minutes when a Kalyn Ponga grubber kick rebounded off legs, Parramatta's Michael Jennings knocked on and Tautau Moga picked it up metres from the line. He lunged for the in-goal area, but dropped the ball. From the ensuing scrum the Knights worked a planned move which ended with Pearce throwing a long spiral pass to no one and over the sideline.

In the 16th minute Eels prop Junior Paulo bounced off of a tackle eight metres out from the Knights' line, offloaded to Reed Mahoney who timed a flat pass to Ryan Matterson who split the defence to open the scoring. Clint Gutherson missed the conversion from a relatively simple angle, but the Eels took a 4-0 lead.

Neither side were giving an inch as the forwards battled away to establish supremacy.

With 16 minutes remaining in the half Dylan Brown split the Knights defence on his own 20 metre line and sprinted downfield with plenty of support. Just into the Knights' half he inexplicably veered away from Jennings and Maika Sivo, before dishing it off to Gutherson, ending what should have been a try-scoring movement.

With the Eels having the better of general play, it took until the 35th minute for the Knights to score their first points. Former Broncos veteran Andrew McCullough took on the goal-line defence from dummy-half, managing to ground the ball despite the best efforts of Gutherson. Ponga missed the conversion, also from a relatively simple angle, to leave the score at 4-4. The teams walked off to enjoy oranges locked on that score.

Seven minutes into the second half the Knights came close to scoring after a scuffle for the ball in the Eels in-goal area following a kick. The home side were starting to gain some momentum, but couldn't find a way through the blue and gold wall.

Midway through the second half Mahoney dived over from dummy-half next to the posts. The referee pedantically ruled that there was an incorrect play-the-ball because of interference from Knights prop David Klemmer. Because the ball was not played properly, the referee was not allowed to play the advantage, instead awarding the Eels a penalty which Gutherson kicked between the posts to take a 6-4 lead.

Minutes later, with the Eels on the attack again, Mahoney put through a neat grubber kick which Lane knocked on in his attempt to ground the ball. It was the smallest of infringements as Lane reached back from within the in-goal area to the drag the ball towards him and over the line.

With 15 minutes remaining, the Eels received a penalty for a high shot on the last tackle. As the perpetrator Pearce argued the point, Gutherson took a quick tap on halfway and took off, drawing Ponga before sending Sivo on his way to yet another try. Gutherson missed the conversion and the score remaining 10-4 in the Eels favour.

The Knights' attack was looking weary, but with four minutes remaining Ponga put through a grubber kick which Tex Hoy chased through, grounding it centimetres before the dead-ball line. What looked like the try that would lead to a levelling of the scores was sent to the bunker where it was found that Hoy was marginally in front of the kicker.

With two minutes remaining Gutherson lined up for a field goal attempt but was chased off by the Knights defence, he kicked ahead and Sivo very nearly scored in the corner. There was a minute remaining, but the Knights were unable to breach the Eels defence.

The Eels jump the Panthers to retake top spot on the ladder, but won't be overly happy with their efforts. The Knights have lost some of their effectiveness with the ball and will need to turn things around against the Rabbitohs next week.