An opening 10 minutes of Jarryd Hayne brilliance was enough to secure the Eels a lacklustre 32-12 win, prompting coach Brad Arthur to declare that if Hayne had not played they would not have beaten Cronulla on Saturday afternoon.
While the Eels may have finished with two vital competition points to keep their top eight aspirations intact, their performance was patchy against bottom-placed Cronulla in front of 12,798 people at Remondis Stadium.
The win was marred by David Gower (corked thigh) limping from the field midway through the second half while Junior Paulo - for making contact with fullback Michael Gordon as the fullback claimed a bomb - and Chris Sandow were placed on report. Sandow will come under scrutiny for a ''grass cutting'' tackle, again on Gordon.
Had it not been for Hayne's opening rampage, the result may have been much different.
''Probably not,'' Arthur said when asked if they win minus Hayne. ''He is one person but if the boys aren't doing their job, he can't do what they do. Every team has someone with individual brilliance.
''[We were] a bit all over the shop. The positive was that we looked flat and found our way to dig ourselves out of it. It wasn't pretty, we know we need to do better.
''I started with a spray [at half-time]. Then I told them what we needed to do better and they responded.''
With his first touch the NSW fullback raced 50 metres to score the opening try after three minutes. He followed that with another midfield line break with his next touch before laying on Parramatta's next points for the away side to rush to a 10-0 lead after nine minutes
Winger Semi Radradra was the beneficiary of Hayne's work, when his sheer presence attracted Fa'amanu Brown, which allowed Ryan Morgan to bust past Cronulla's defensive line from a Hayne pass before gifting Radradra a try.
But as Hayne went into his shell, so too did his teammates, who struggled to gain any further ascendancy in the opening half. Cronulla failed to capitalise on a strong first half breeze. The wind worked against the Sharks, who allowed four 20 metre tap restarts for the Eels with errant kicks.
Andrew Fifita helped the Sharks get back into the game as he continues his resurgence in trying to replicate his form from last season. The big man was near unstoppable, bobbing up all across the field, causing havoc for the Eels defence. A line break from debutant winger Valentine Holmes created an opportunity for Fifita to attack a flat-footed Eels defence, allowing him to hit Brown on an angled run to give the Sharks their opening try in the 30th minute.
Cronulla finished the first half the better of the two sides and could have snatched an unlikely lead had Holmes secured an awkward bouncing cut-out pass from halfback Jeff Robson, who cut the Eels up in the middle of the field. Had Holmes gained possession he would have raced 20 metres to score almost certainly untouched.
Again a poor start to a half cost Cronulla. Allowing Parramatta's Chris Sandow to float cross-field, the Eels halfback found Peni Terepo, who ran over Brown to score and extend their lead to 10 points. Cronulla coach James Shepherd was critical of his team's edge defence.
''We could have defended those two shapes better [in the first half] and we could've defended with better shape for the second half try,'' Shepherd said.
Then Parramatta debutant Bureta Faraimo - who burst onto the scene as part of the US squad at last year's World Cup - scored to open up a 20-6 lead, the first of his two tries, in the 58th minute.
The Sharks crawled their way back into the game when Holmes laid on a try for Robson eight minutes later.
It is no coincidence the Sharks' comeback coincided with the return of Fifita for a second stint after coming from the field having played an unbroken 48 minutes. The joy was short-lived for the Cronulla faithful however as Hayne raced the length of the field after securing a loose ball to score his second try.
Parramatta Eels 32 (B Faraimo 2 J Hayne 2 S Radradra P Terepo tries C Sandow 4 goals) Cronulla Sharks 12 (F Brown J Robson tries M Gordon 2 goals) at Remondis Stadium. Referee: Ashley Klein, Adam Gee. Crowd: 12,798
- Sydney Morning Herald
Are the Kiwis the world's best team?