Parramatta’s boom winger Bevan French has been all the rage in the NRL in recent weeks, but the diminutive flyer was mowed down by another rookie in Friday’s win over the Sydney Roosters, in what ranks as arguably the most thrilling chase of 2016.
French brilliantly snaffled an intercept 10 metres out from the Eels’ line and it immediately seemed like ‘shut the gate’ time.
But no one told rangy Roosters winger Joseph Manu, who showed incredible pace and composure to come from the opposite wing and push French into touch just short of the try-line.
Manu was making just his second first-grade appearance, while the Roosters’ incredible batch of young talent was emphasised by another sizzling two-try display from fullback Latrell Mitchell.
The 18-year-old Mitchell has shied away from Greg Inglis comparisons throughout his maiden NRL campaign, but the resemblance in style and ability is beyond uncanny. If anything, Mitchell – who has scored 11 tries in 16 games in the top flight in a struggling side – is better than GI at the same age.
But it was a young veteran who stood head and shoulders above the rest as the Eels pulled off a come-from-behind 22-18 victory.
Corey Norman, who has drugs charges hanging over him, typified the dogged Eels’ spirit in putting myriad distractions and setbacks behind them with one of the finest performances of his 125-game career.
The 25-year-old Queenslander laid on all four of the Eels’ tries – three of them from inch-perfect grubber kicks – before denying Manu a last-minute leveller with a superb cover tackle.
The blue-and-golds overcame more than their share of in-game adversity, losing superstar winger Semi Radradra and wily hooker Isaac De Gois to injury during the first half. Manu Ma’u, shunted to centre after Radradra was assisted from the field, was one of the best afield in a two-try effort.
The victory kept the Eels’ razor-thin finals hopes alive – the club needs to win all eight of its remaining games to scrape into the top eight, assuming the NRL still intends to strip the side of 12 competition points.
It was another much-improved display from the rebuilding Roosters, but with a 3-13 record it leaves them anchored to second-last spot on the ladder.