A second-half try to Reed Mahoney proved the difference for Parramatta, as the Eels opened the NRL season with a gritty 8-2 victory over Canterbury on Thursday night.
Scores were locked at 2-2 for almost half of a sapping contest at the western Sydney stadium, until Mahoney showed quick reaction skills to post the only try of the match.
Before Mahoney’s last-ditch effort, the match threatened to become the first tryless encounter since the Bulldogs edged Illawarra 4-2 in 1993.
But Mahoney took full advantage of a Mitchell Moses grubber into the in-goal that counterpart Lachlan Lewis failed to clean up.
Canterbury had a number of chances to push for an equaliser, but the Eels held on to get their campaign off to a winning start.
The build-up was marred by a week of damaging headlines for the code brought on by an off-field incident resulting in the standing down of two Bulldogs players.
There were also fears the coronavirus would impact attendance, with a crowd of 21,363 turning up for what was hoped to be a sell-out.
AND THERE IT IS!
— NRL (@NRL) March 12, 2020
Despite the dramatic lead-in, the first half fizzled with neither team able to muster any genuine try-scoring opportunities.
Canterbury, the league’s worst attacking team last year, registered the only two line breaks of the match but could not convert either into points.
Parramatta also struggled to maintain pressure, with neither Moses nor Dylan Brown able to inject themselves into the contest.
Eels winger Blake Ferguson came close to opening the scoring in the fourth minute, but stepped on the touchline moments before planting the ball.
Instead, the first points of the match came via a Brandon Wakeham penalty goal in the 12th minute, which was matched by Moses later in the half.
Both sides also failed to overturn knock-on rulings with captain’s challenges either side of half-time, the first by Reagan Campbell-Gillard and then Will Hopoate.
Bulldogs lock Adam Elliott had a chance to grab the first try of the match but was denied by some desperate defence from Ryan Matterson and Nathan Brown.
Ferguson could also find himself in trouble with the match review committee after being penalised for tripping in the second half.