There has always been a healthy competition between these two teams, dating back to the 1980s when the Eels and Tigers were among the best. Recent history has only added to the animosity with Mitchell Moses and Ryan Matterson both leaving the Tigers for Parramatta in acrimonious circumstances.
During the week, Tigers coach Michael Maguire dispelled all talk of the Tigers looking to prove a point to Matterson, saying he was more concerned with his team proving that they could beat a Top 4 team.
With the Eels slipping to second place on the NRL ladder last week after losing to the Sea Eagles, they welcomed Moses, Matterson and Blake Ferguson back from injury, with the Tigers firmly in their sights. The Tigers were fresh from hammering the Broncos and full of confidence as they looked to solidify their place in the Top 8. With both teams losing players to head knocks through the game, the tough encounter turned into a war of attrition, one that the superior Eels managed to win 26-16.
It was another slow start for Parramatta. Less than two minutes into the game, with the Eels yet to touch the ball, a flat dummy-half pass from Tigers hooker Harry Grant five metres out from the line saw Luciano Leilua crash over. Moses at marker was left with his hand in the air requesting a forward pass call, while Matterson was left grasping at air in defence. It wasn't a good start for the former Tigers.
It was eight minutes later that Maika Sivo crashed over in the corner for the Eels after dismissing an Adam Doueihi shoulder charge as little more than a slight inconvenience. Moses slipped over landing on his backside as he attempted the sideline conversion, leaving the scores locked at 4-4.
The Tigers were looking more composed as the Eels made several early handling errors. Harry Grant was setting off alarm bells whenever he scuttled from dummy-half, but it was a floating pass from Doueihi after some Benji Marshall sleight of hand, which led to the Tigers' next try. David Nofoaluma beat Sivo to the corner and Moses Mbye kicked the conversion for a 10-4 lead.
With 25 minutes remaining in the first half, we saw the first real evidence of the Tigers' disregard for Matterson. Tigers prop Russell Packer charged into the Eels defence from the restart and Matterson was sent reeling. As it became clear that he was concussed, struggling to stand with the help of Ferguson, Packer screamed something at the wobbly former Tiger. Packer's coach might not have been focussing on the ill feeling, but old forwards don't forget.
Shortly after, with the Eels defence looking stretched, the Tigers received a penalty and decided to kick a goal to lead 12-4. The Eels would waste no time hitting back through an unexpected source.
Reagan Campbell Gillard took a pass from Clint Gutherson on halfway before streaking away, running around Tigers fullback Doueihi before diving over for the try. His teammates celebrated loudly, having probably never seen him run that far in a game. The conversion from Moses was followed shortly after by a penalty goal to level the scores at 12-12.
"It was a tough win in slippery conditions, but we found a way to get back into the game," Eels captain Gutherson said of their sluggish start.
"It turned the game for us, big Reggie's try. They were really on us for the first 15-20 minutes of the game."
Tigers forward Michael Chee-Kam put his head in the way of Shaun Lane's hip and there were some very worrying scenes as the fallen Tiger convulsed on the field. As he was being driven off on the medicab, news came from the Eels dressing sheds that Matterson had failed his HIA and was out for the game.
"He's OK, he spoke to everyone before he left - he has gone to hospital to get a check-up, but he's OK," Tigers coach Maguire said of Chee-Kam's ugly head knock.
"It's not nice to have one of your players in that position, Chee's a great character and all the boys are fond of him too, so they were a bit concerned there, but it's good to hear he is OK."
With seven minutes before the break, a Doueihi knock-on saw Moses given the chance to put on a display of individual brilliance to tear at the hearts of Tigers fans. Seeing Doueihi defending in the line fifteen metres out, Moses chipped over the top, raced through and took the ball after a perfect bounce. It was great vision to see that no one was at home in the backfield and incredible execution. The Gutherson conversion saw the Eels take an 18-12 lead which they maintained until the break.
Early in the second half the head injury count continued to climb with Tigers fullback Doueihi taken from the field after allowing a bomb to bounce and having his head collected by the leg of Nofoaluma in a scramble for the ball. Minutes later, a Gutherson grubber kick saw Lane score a try to take the Eels to a 22-12 lead.
The Eels dominated possession and field position for the first 15 minutes of the second half as the Tigers battled with only one reserve left on their interchange bench. With 16 minutes remaining Sivo increased the lead, diving over in the corner on the end of some slick backline passing. Gutherson missed the conversion, before the Tigers missed the short kick-off attempt. Moses ended up on his backside again in attempting to find touch with his free kick from the middle of halfway. Trailing 26-12 the Tigers started playing desperate and error-ridden football.
The game was denied possibly the most acrobatic finish ever seen when a knock-on was found in the lead-up to a Ferguson miracle grounding. Ferguson received the ball five metres out, leapt into the air near the line, was bumped by a cover defender, but still somehow managed to ground the ball between his legs while keeping his feet off the ground. Any description falls well short of the actual play.
The Tigers scored a late try through Tommy Talau, but the Eels were well in control as the clock ran down. Matterson might not remember much of his limited contribution to the victory, but Moses certainly enjoyed his return to the Eels line-up.
"He was a bit rusty tonight Mitch, but he did make a difference, just with that talk, his kicking was good," Eels coach Brad Arthur said. "So he was helpful, but I just thought we started a bit tired on the back of our five-day turnaround.
"We found a way to win... our response was good, I thought our response was good last week as well, but we left it too late last week.
"We can't be starting like that, second set down on our own try line, we have to show a bit more grit on our try line."