Pirates edge Parra to get off the mark in a thriller

Photo: Brett Kenna

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Having pushed Randwick to the wire in round one, and racked up 36pts against last year’s runners-up Manly in round two, Parramatta entered round three in search of the victory that would indicate their improvement as a side from 2015 will be no flash in the pan. West Harbour meanwhile, were still licking their wounds ahead of their trip to Merrylands RSL Rugby Park, after a second successive 50pt defeat the week before had consigned them to bottom place on the ladder.

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It was the home side who drew first blood, the game barely two minutes old when Wests’ centre David Minute was stripped in contact by Robbie Mate on halfway, and the Parra flyhalf put rampaging no.8 Tyrone Viiga through a gap and away for the opener, Kaleb Rech adding the extras.

Wests settled and tried to work their way forward through the impressive halves pairing of Wayne Ngaluafe and Tayler Adams. While at the other end, the Two Blues’ sheer size was proving a handful for the Pirates’ defence – Viiga, Senio Toleafoa and Sev Domoni all eager to do some damage, and very hard to bring to ground.

It was another powerful carry from Viiga on 16 minutes that led to a half-break from hooker Aaron Blacklock, and his offload in the tackle looked to have put the ever alert Rech away for another, only for the halfback to knock-on in contact with the line in sight. However, from the ensuing five-metre scrum, a powerful hit from the home pack drove Wests off their own ball, and Viiga was on hand to find the line for his and his team’s second.

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Tyrone Viiga bagged a double to give the Two Blues an early lead – Photo: Brett Kenna

Without doing an awful lot wrong, the visitors already found themselves two scores down and – given the collapses of the previous weeks – they needed to score next before the scoreboard got away from them again.

And they did, referee Dominic McCarthy playing an advantage for a late hit in midfield and the Pirates showing their abilities with ball in hand, going 60 metres through six pairs of hands before outside centre Graeme Kolomalu span his way over.

Tayler Adams pushed his conversion wide, but when Parra kicked out on the full from the restart, and then conceded a penalty in front of the posts, the young Kiwi did the honours at the second time of asking to make it 14-8.

The next 10 minutes were played out largely in no-man’s land. Wests were looking to make good on their resurgence with Adams probing for an opening for his potent back three, while the Two Blues tried to reassert their authority with forward dominance through a vastly improved scrum. But few could have predicted the way the closing moments of the half would play out, three minutes of madness that left the home side chasing a game they had looked to be in control of only quarter of an hour earlier.

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The impressive Wayne Ngaluafe fires it wide for the Pirates – Photo: Brett Kenna

Pushing for a score to take into the break, they spilt the ball as they went wide and Wests hooker Todd Pearce booted upfield. Parra fullback Jason Roache got their first, but was soon turned over by a posse of eager Pirates, and when scrumhalf Ngaluafe fed the onrushing Kelepi Leao, the big no.8 stormed through a fractured line and a couple of soft tackles to run home with glee.

And, in what must have been an absolute coach-killer for Paul Hardwick and his assistants watching on, the Two Blues duly committed the same sin from the restart, and were punished in exactly the same manner.

Winger Trent Winterstein dropped it cold on this occasion, and Pirates fullback Liam Windon grubbered into enemy territory. Parra regrouped, but as Robbie Mate tried to clear up the mess at the back of the ruck an ill-advised one-handed offload fell straight into the grateful arms of Tom Patterson, and the loose forward gleefully ran under the posts for Adams to convert and turn a 14-0 deficit into a surprising 20-14 half-time lead.

That soon became 27-14 after an increasingly confident West Harbour kicked a penalty to touch in the opening minute of the second stanza to set the platform for another strike. The forwards did the hard yakka this time to maul within a metre, and when Ngaluafe and Adams combined to send it wide, Tim Hansen had time and space to find the corner.

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Oops! Parra centre Perofeta Silva drops the ball over the line – Photo: Brett Kenna

When Perofeta Silva then darted onto a superb delayed pass from Mate to go through the Pirates’ line and over the chalk, only to drop it cold as he grounded, you wondered if it just wasn’t meant to be for the Two Blues. And that theory was further subscribed to in the 53rd minute when Wests grabbed a fifth.

Another Parra attack was turned over and cleared by Justin Marsters, the former Melbourne Rising winger putting a mammoth kick downfield for he and Liam Windon to chase. When they did so to such good effect that Parra were pinged for not releasing, Wests took the lineout option again, and after a couple of pick and drives, Ngaluafe was on hand to dive under a forest of bodies and just about find the white stuff.

Adams added the extras to make it 34 unanswered points, and that really should have been game, set and match for the visitors. But, perhaps jaded from their efforts in the middle-third of the contest, they left the door ajar, and the Two Blues came thundering through in the final quarter to almost leave them empty-handed.

With scrumhalf Kaleb Rech calling the shots for the hosts, Wests were now having to do a lot of defending, and they were eventually breached by an ex-player, prop David Lolohea burrowing over from 10 metres to reduce the arrears.

Rech’s hastily taken – and subsequently missed – conversion would come back to haunt him at full-time. But with just over 10 minutes remaining, momentum had swung firmly back towards his side, Wests taking their time to pack a scrum or form a lineout as Parra upped the pace of the game.

They bagged another with eight to go, off a lightning-fast counter from their own 22 led by replacement Sione Pusiaki-Fifita, which Windon did well to cover. But the ball was recycled coast-to-coast, and a lovely wide pass from Roache put Trent Winterstein away.

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Trent Winterstein dives in for Parra’s fourth but it was all too late – Photo: Brett Kenna

Wary of the clock, Roache wasted no time with a drop goal for the extras to make it 34-26, and when he then twisted his way under the posts in the final minute and drop-kicked again to make it a one-point ball game, a buoyant Two Blues headed back for the restart with Wests seemingly out on their feet.

But as soon as the airborne Gilbert hit the floor ref McCarthy blew his whistle to break Parra hearts, and get a hugely relieved West Harbour on the board with their first win of 2016.

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WEST HARBOUR 34 (Graeme Kolomalu, Kelepi Leao, Tom Patterson, Tim Hansen, Wayne Ngaluafe tries; Tayler Adams 3 cons, pen) defeated PARRAMATTA 33 (Tyrone Viiga 2, David Lolohea, Trent Winterstein, Jason Roache tries; Kaleb Rech 2 cons, Jason Roache 2 cons) at Merrylands RSL Rugby Park HT 14-20

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Parramatta: 1. David Lolohea; 2. Aaron Blacklock; 3. Nigel Vaifale; 4. Sev Domoni; 5. Senio Toleafoa; 6. Andrew Cox; 7. Patrick Searson; 8. Tyrone Viiga; 9. Kaleb Rech; 10. Robbie Mate; 11. Trent Winterstein; 12. Perofeta Silva; 13. Robert Duff; 14. Luke Casey; 15. Jason Roache – Replacements: Nick Blacklock; Liu Taituave; John Poe; Sione Pusiaki-Fifita: Sam Hayward; Josh Minhinnick

West Harbour: 1. Cameron Orr; 2. Todd Pearce; 3. Faiva Saloisi; 4. Bradford Kapa; 5. Tom Games; 6. Tom Patterson; 7. Jordan Tuapou; 8. Kelepi Leao; 9. Wayne Ngaluafe; 10. Tayler Adams; 11. Tim Hansen; 12. David Minute; 13. Graeme Kolomalu; 14. Justin Marsters; 15. Liam Windon – Replacements: Kodie Drury-Hawkins; Malakai Tiumalo-Afele; Michael Morgan

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Original version published by Rugby News on April 4th, 2016

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