Eels survive in NRL thriller over Knights

·3-min read

Mitch Moses and a hint of controversy have helped Parramatta stave off another NRL finals nightmare, ending Newcastle's season with a 28-20 win in Rockhampton.

In a dramatic end to the second elimination final, Newcastle fought back from a 22-10 deficit to close to within two points with 20 minutes to play.

But any hope of a comeback was ended when the bunker awarded Eels centre Will Penisini a penalty try late in the match after it first denied.

The bunker ruled Penisini would have got to a Clint Gutherson grubberkick first and scored if he hadn't been taken by Enari Tuala.

Further controversy erupted over whether Gutherson had kicked the ball before it hit the ground, with replays inconclusive.

Gutherson joked post-match it was "a well-placed drop kick".

The NRL confirmed a player does not need to be attempting a field goal to drop kick the football.

Regardless, Knights coach Adam O'Brien clearly opposed the penalty try, claiming he'd "save some cash" rather than comment.

The result set up a grudge match for the Eels against Penrith on Saturday, marking the first finals meeting between the arch rivals since 2000.

Parramatta could be without Junior Paulo, Marata Niukore and Waqa Blake, with all three put on report for dangerous tackles.

But despite the drama, they will still walk away relieved thanks to Moses.

Often criticised for his poor run of results in big games, the half produced when it mattered most.

Down 10-6 after they put the opening kick-off out on the full and Newcastle scored two of the game's first three tries, Parramatta and Moses stood up.

He first split Newcastle open from 40 metres out to give Parramatta the lead, after a Josh King concussion stopped all momentum.

From the next set he earned a quick play-the-ball after running off his forwards, allowing Penisini to skip through and flick pass for Blake Ferguson to score.

Moses again made his mark after the break, putting on a lofted cut-out ball for Ferguson get his second try.

"He was good, he ran the footy," coach Brad Arthur said.

"He had a real focus around defence and kicking. His kicking wasn't great early in the piece. In that breeze it was very strong.

"But he soon corrected that and come up with some big goal kicks for us that helped."

That should have been enough for Parramatta to close it out, but in the finals it is never easy for the Eels.

Their 12-point lead was halved after a failed Will Smith charge down gifted Newcastle more ball and Tuala a second try.

And when a Paulo high shot put the Knights in position for Ponga to send Tuala over for a hat-trick with his second cut-out ball, it was down to two points.

With a 1-5 record in finals since 2017 and a late-season fade in 2021, Parramatta looked shaky.

But this time they held on, as Mitchell Pearce's failure to force points contrasted with Moses' smart kicking before the late penalty try sealed it.

"I'm really disappointed," O'Brien said.

"I've got a shattered dressing room. They fought so hard, I am really proud of them.

"We would like to have the five minutes before halftime back again. We just switched off mentally."

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