An unlikely eel sealed an incredible 28-24 win over the Storm in Golden Point.
It was an end-to-end clash between the two prime minister heavyweights until the 80th minute when the scores were locked.
Mitch Moses and Ryan Papenhuyzen both tried their luck at field goals, but it was bench striker Ray Stone who invented the winning play.
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A fiery Brandon Smith was a welcome return for the Storm given their hooking slump. The star rake made a shock return with a broken hand in the No.23 shirt, while Nick Meaney replaced injured winger Xavier Coates.
Melbourne nearly scored first when Reimis Smith passed Waqa Blake to brilliantly take a bomb, but it was ruled a double move. They were denied another try two minutes later due to obstruction.
But the Storm finally got their four points thanks to Smith who crossed under the posts.
However, the eels retaliated immediately. Dylan Brown paused and threw a dummy before finding skipper Clint Gutherson scoring.
Parramatta took the lead when Waqa Blake absolutely crushed Papenhuyzen to score in the corner.
Fox League analyst Michael Ennis said “it’s like watching a car crash”, as he watched the replay of the stunt.
But the Storm responded four minutes later by Nick Meaney to lock in the scores at halftime.
Meaney went back to back as he crossed three minutes into the second half on a long-range kick from Cameron Munster.
The scores were locked once again when Tom Opacic scored from a Moses kick. The Eels doubled and scored again thanks to Stone nearly falling on himself as he planted the ball on a chip kick from Moses.
Moïse had hoped to try to seal the game with a basket in the final minutes, but his calls for the ball for a basket were ignored.
It proved costly as Smith made a crucial break when the Storm won the ball back and passed to Munster who then passed to Papenhuyzen to score and lock the scores five minutes from time.
Papenhuyzen went for a field goal but Shaun Lane charged it in, while Moses eventually got his shot for the field goal – 42 yards out – but he didn’t go the distance.
Then, in an absolutely jaw-dropping moment in the game, Moses went for the basket and although he failed, he rebounded perfectly for Stone to score his second of the night – and the game winner.
EEL’S UNLIKELY REDEMPTION STORY
At this time last year, Ray Stone was one of the Eels 17’s lesser-known players.
Despite boasting one of the best tackling skills in the NRL, the 24-year-old’s name only really made headlines after a heartbreaking moment for the Eels last season.
Stone is thrown the shocker out of the mock half that Junior Paulo hit in the Eels’ semi-final loss to the Panthers.
While Paulo made the mistake, Stone – a lock that filled in the hooker – took most of the blame.
But the hard-working striker went from zero to hero on Saturday night and this time his name will be in the headlines for very different reasons.
He not only scored his first career brace, but the 24-year-old won the game when he pounced on Moses’ failed field goal attempt to score on the golden point.
“Peter, my God. Stop the press on Southern Highlands news. Ray Stone may have scored the game winner with a brace,” Fox League commentator Andrew Voss said of the Moss Vale product.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s the most dramatic moment.”
Unfortunately, Stone injured his knee in the process, but luckily he was back on his feet full time.
“We’re proud of our efforts and he’s leading them,” Moses said of Stone after the game.
“He leads him in training, he does the extras and he’s probably one of the fittest at the club. It showed there, in extra time he comes in with the big play when nobody’s playing. he other is there, he presents himself.
‘TOUGH HOMBRE’ SMITH IS WORTH THE BET
Brandon Smith was not expected to return with a broken hand until next week, but with Harry Grant and Tyran Wishart ruled out due to Covid protocols, the champion hooker has become Melbourne’s ‘savior’.
Storm coach Craig Bellamy revealed in his pre-match interview that there was no added risk of Smith returning a week early.
“It wasn’t always the case, but we spoke to the specialist and he said his only risk – compared to next week when we thought he would come back – was whether he could grab,” said Bellamy said.
“So we gave him some tests and he did fine, but as far as another break or whatever, this week will be the same as next week.”
Benji Marshall admitted a ‘75% Brandon Smith’ is better than a reserve player, while Cooper Cronk praised the Kiwi Test star’s tenacity.
“He drank his milk, had surgery 12 days ago,” he said.
“He’s a badass to be out there, but he’s going to have to endure some pain shaking hands, passing the ball and making tackles.
“But I tell you what, he’s a savior because they had a big hole to fill in that dummy half position.”
Smith looked fired up even before the game kicked off and was rewarded for his early involvement with the first try of the night.
“It was a fantastic start from Brandon Smith,” Ennis said.
“It’s Munster who straightens the attack, finds King inside and a nice unload to the tenacious little half-half. He just ducks his head down, burrows low, and accelerates through Parramatta’s defensive line.
Parker said the addition of Smith was a “huge sigh of relief” for the Storm and dubbed him the “heartbeat of this team”.
The 25-year-old was spotted shaking his hand and was taken off the pitch but came back in the 57th minute and made the crucial break which led to Papenhuyzen’s try which sent the game to the golden point.
“He wasn’t even supposed to be here,” Ennis proclaimed as Smith broke through.
Smith’s impact was undeniable, even though the Storm fell short of the win. He finished with a try, a try assist, 97 running yards, five jump tackles, two line breaks and 34 tackles to go along with his try.
BROWN TAKES THE HAND
With Mitch Moses playing on Saturday after a leg injury, Parramatta needed Dylan Brown to take control and the five-eighth did not disappoint.
Brown previously admitted publicly that he was “disappointed” with his 2021 season because he was “all over the place”.
The 21-year-old had an electric running game when he first announced himself in the NRL, but last season he disappeared.
Brown rediscovered it in the first three games of the season by covering 85 yards, 138 yards and 76 yards respectively.
And his vision was just as important for the Eels in this clash with the Storm.
Brown’s silky footwork was in the spotlight and he threw a “crunchy” floating pass to set up Waqa Blake for a sensational first-half try.
“Dylan Brown has a first half here at AAMI Park,” Ennis said.
“It’s a ball that cracks… Dylan Brown lands a pearler.”
Brown finished the game with two assists, eight tackle saves, a line hop, a line hop pass, two offloads, and 32 tackles with just one miss.
He also showed the right amount of confidence that Ennis thinks the Eels need to go all the way this year.
“For Parramatta to go a little further this year (they need Brown to be at their best),” Ennis said.
“So many things revolved around Mitchell Moses and Clint Gutherson. We know he (Brown) had a great running game, we saw that this afternoon, but also two assists.
“You can just see the confidence Mitch gave him in the offseason. His ability to take the line and his combination with Shaun Lane was great this afternoon.
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Storm: 1. Ryan Papenhuyzen 2. Dean Ieremia 3. Reimis Smith 4. Justin Olam 19. Nick Meaney 6. Cameron Munster 7. Jahrome Hughes 8. Jesse Bromwich 23. Brandon Smith 10. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 11. Felise Kaufusi 12. Kenneath Bromwich 13. Josh King 15. Alec MacDonald 16. Trent Loiero 17. Tepai Moeroa 18. Chris Lewis Substitute player: 25. Tyson Smoothy
Eels: 1. Clinton Gutherson 2. Waqa Blake 3. Viliami Penisini 4. Tom Opacic 5. Bailey Simonsson 6. Dylan Brown 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 9. Reed Mahoney 10. Junior Paulo 11. Shaun Lane 12. Isaiah Papali ‘i 13. Nathan Brown 14. Makahesi Makatoa 15. Wiremu Greig 16. Ray Stone 17. Oregon Kaufusi Substitute player: 18. Bryce Cartwright
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